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Mathematics in Historical Context

Mathematics in Historical Context

By Jeff Suzuki

Print ISBN: 978-0-88385-570-6
Electronic ISBN: 978-1-61444-502-9
424 pp., Hardbound, 2009
List Price: $60.00
MAA Member: $45.00
Series: Spectrum

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Mathematics in Historical Context describes the world around the important mathematicians of the past and explores the complex interaction between mathematics, mathematicians, and society. It takes the reader on a grand tour of history from the ancient Egyptians to the 20th century to show how mathematicians and mathematics were affected by the outside world, and at the same time how the outside world was affected by mathematics and mathematicians. Part biography, part mathematics, and part history, this book provides the interested lay person the background to understand mathematics and the history of mathematics.

Table of Contents

1. The Ancient World
2. The Classical World
3. China and India
4. The Islamic World
5. The Middle Ages
6. Renaissance and Reformation
7. Early Modern Europe
8. The Eighteenth Century
9. The Nineteenth Century
10. The United States
11. The Modern World

Excerpt: 5.1.1 Adelard of Bath (p. 120)

Rulers might not see the value of engineers, mathematicians, or scientists, but they invariably employ the best physicians they can find. In the middle ages, the best physicians were those educated in Sicilian, Byzantine, or Islamic lands. In 1110, a coverted Jew, Pedro Alfonso, became the court physician to Henry I of England. Pedro stressed the importance of observation and conveyed some of the discoveries of Islamic scientists and mathematicians to England. It is probably no coincidence that around the same time, Henry sent ADELARD OF BATH (fl. 1116-1142) on a scientific pilgrimage. First, Adelard went to Tours and Laon, but before long he made his way to Salerno and Sicily, where he could study Islamic culture firsthand. Intrigued by the high achievements of the Muslims in mathematics and sciences, Adelard traveled through Cilicia (in Asia Minor), Syria, and Palestine before returning to Bath around 1130 with a knowledge of Arabic and an Arabic copy of the Elements.

By this time, knowledge of deductive geoemtry had reached its lowest point in the West. One of the main texts was a long didactic poem, The Marriage of Philology and Mercury, written around 420 by Martianus Capella. The seven liberal arts are personified as bridesmaids, and give lessons as their wedding gifts. Geometry's lesson consists of a long discourse on the size and shape of the universe and the geography of the Mediterranean world, and a closing section on geometrical definitions. Arithmetic fares somewhat better: much of Nicomachus is reproduced, and the section ends with observations on divisibility (for example, Arithmetic observes that if a prime number divides any term of a geometry sequence beginning with 1, it must divide the second term).

About the Author

Jeff Suzuki was born in California, and received his B.A. in mathematics and history from California State University at Fullerton, and M.A. and Ph.D. in mathematics from Boston University. His previous publications include A History of Mathematics (Prentice-Hall, 2002); “A Brief History of Impossibility” (Mathematics Magazine 81, 27-38); “Lagrange's Proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra” (American Mathematical Monthly, 113, 705-714); and “The Lost Calculus: Tangency and Optimization Without Limits” (Mathematics Magazine, 78, 339-353), for which he won the Carl B. Allendoerfer Award from the MAA for an article of expository excellence. He is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Brooklyn College.

MAA Review

When Don Albers talks, you had better listen: what he says just might improve the book you were going to write. In 2002, he asked the following question of author Jeff Suzuki: “What would Newton see, if he looked out his window?” Suzuki thought about that discussion a great deal and what emerged was Mathematics in Historical Context. This is a different look at the history of our subject. For the author understands that history is more than facts, historical facts and chronologies — names, dates and places. It is also causes, explanations and interpretations — motivations, reasons and outcomes. Continued...


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