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Pioneers in Mathematics

Linda Y. Shuey, reviewer

Pioneers in Mathematics by Michael J. Bradley,  2006, 5 Volumes - $127.30 or $26.95 each, hardcover, ISBN 0-8160-5422-3, Chelsea House Publishers,


Pioneers in Mathematics by Michael J. Bradley, is a five-volume set of biographies of fifty representative mathematicians that gives a broad view of the history and development of mathematics for readers in grades 6-12. Each of the five volumes is subtitled (see the listing below) and covers a specified time period in the history of mathematics through the lives and contributions of ten selected individuals. Beginning with an Introduction describing the setting for the particular time period, each volume ends with a Glossary, Further Reading sources, and an Index. Each biography describes the life and times of a mathematician so the reader is drawn into understanding how that person went down the path he or she pursued. Each chapter ends with a quick summary of the person’s major accomplishments. Several women mathematicians are highlighted, which will inspire young female readers. Although problems are mentioned in each biography, they are not stated so that the reader could try solving them. A section of problems from the time period would have been a nice addition to each volume since most mathematical accomplishments are associated with the solving of problems.

  • The first volume is subtitled “The Birth of Mathematics - Ancient Times to 1300” and spotlights the work in mathematics credited to Thales, Pythagoras, Euclid, Archimedes, Hypatia, Aryabhata I, Brahmagupta, al-Khwarizmi, Omar Khayyam, and Fibonacci.
  • “The Age of Genius - 1300 to 1800” focuses on the lives and mathematical work of al-Kashi, Viete, Napier, Fermat, Pascal, Newton, Leibniz, Euler, Agnesi, and Banneker.
  • “The Foundations of Mathematics - 1800 to 1900” highlights the contributions of Germain, Gauss, Somerville, Abel, Galois, Lovelace, Nightingale, Cantor, Kovalevsky, and Poincare.
  • “Modern Mathematics – 1900 to 1950” gives a glimpse into the life and work of Hilbert, Young, Sierpinski, Noether, Ramanujan, Wiener, von Neumann, Hopper, Turing, and Erdos.
  • The fifth and last volume in the set is “Mathematics Frontiers - 1950 to the Present” and gives us views into the lives and contributions of Julia Robinson, J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr., John Nash, John H. Conway, Stephen Hawking, Shing-Tung Yau, Fan Chung, Andrew Wiles, Ingrid Daubechies, and Sarah Flannery.

Middle and high school students would enjoy reading Pioneers in Mathematics because they do not need to understand all of the mathematics to see the development of the subject through the ages by these real people. Brief descriptions of the mathematical contributions along with the titles of writings are given so that further investigation could be done if the reader is so inclined by using the Further Reading sources at the end of each chapter and volume.

Most students (and teachers) of middle and high school mathematics are unaware of the history of mathematics or the mathematical achievements of the 20th century. The last two volumes give an inviting look into new areas of mathematical research and their practical applications for today. For instance, Sarah Flannery, born in Ireland in 1982, created a new algorithm for encrypting information which has wide ranging applications for improved banking security. She made this discovery before graduating from high school! Pioneers in Mathematics should be added to middle and high school libraries everywhere as a good source of general information about mathematics as a “human endeavor” by highlighting fifty representative people who developed mathematics from 700 B.C.E. to the present.

Linda Y. Shuey, Western Albemarle H. S., Crozet, VA