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The Ambitious Horse

Lynn Godshall, reviewer

The Ambitious Horse: Ancient Chinese Mathematics Problems , Lawrence W. Swienciki, 126 pp., $19.95, ISBN 1-55953-461-3, Key Curriculum Press, 1150 65th Street, Emeryville, CA 94608. 1-800-995-MATH or

Each of the approximately thirty problems in this lavishly illustrated book begins with a brief historical background. This is followed by the presentation of the problem in its original form. Solutions are presented in both the ancient Chinese methods as well as modern methods. Supplementary exercises appear with many of the problems; these are often variations of the original problem.

The ancient and medieval Chinese mathematics topics range from the base-ten number system to computations with Chinese counting rods to modular arithmetic. Most of the problems are self-contained and can be completed in a single period; they are in reproducible form. These problems work very well on the day before a vacation; although they are instructive, they are also entertaining.

Many of the problems integrate geometry and algebra, so they are quite beneficial for review and reinforcement. The historical approach helps students appreciate the fact that our modern techniques have undergone many changes throughout history. Students also see that mathematics certainly began as an applied science: mathematics was needed to solve the problems of the times.

I have already used a number of the problems, and the students enjoyed both the history and the mathematics. Multi-culturalism is a goal in today’s classrooms, and this book definitely meets this need. Will this book be the first in a series? We math educators certainly hope so!

Lynn Godshall, Mathematics Chairman, Susquehanna Township High School, Harrisburg, PA

Lynn Godshall, reviewer, "The Ambitious Horse," Loci (July 2007)