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The Story of Mathematics

Author(s): 
Anne Loesch, reviewer

The Story of Mathematics, Richard Mankiewicz, 2004, 192 pp., $19.95, paperbound, ISBN: 0-691-12046-3. Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, NJ 08540. (800)777-4726, http://www.pup.princeton.edu/


As a college student, I was fortunate to study the history and philosophy of mathematics as part of a Bachelor of Arts degree.  As a teacher for twenty years I knew that my students would have benefited from an understanding of the development of mathematics.  Richard Mankiewicz has produced a volume that renewed my interest and makes the history of mathematics accessible to students and ordinary people of today.  He shows that the mathematical sciences are intimately linked to the hopes and dreams as well as the practical necessities of the civilizations in which they flourished.  He does this through striking visuals and the words of mathematicians themselves aimed at the interaction between mathematical thinking and all other human activities.  He sketches historical periods and key developments by explaining mathematical concepts without numbers or equations.

The book presents selected highlights of a story that ebbs and flows with the changing fortunes of some of the world's great civilizations.  The author traces the evolution of science, philosophy, and mathematics and asserts that their relations are far more important to the history of humanity than the usual parade of rulers and the progressions of wars.

Practically, Mankiewicz explains the key role of mathematics in human endeavors from counting, map-making, and navigation to telephones, television, space travel and computers.  We live today in an age of unparalleled technological achievement made possible through very sophisticated mathematics.  Mankiewicz helps us to understand how we got here.

How and why mathematics developed as it did provides a fascinating study for high school students, college students and ordinary citizens of our world where mathematics is close to the center of every human endeavor.  I heartily recommend The Story of Mathematics!

Anne Loesch, Mathematics Teacher (retired), Marian Catholic H.S., Chicago Heights, IL.

Anne Loesch, reviewer, "The Story of Mathematics," Loci (July 2007)

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