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In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World (edition 2013)

by Ian Stewart (Author)

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265542,932 (3.47)3
Member:gregvogl
Title:In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World
Authors:Ian Stewart (Author)
Info:Basic Books (2013), Edition: First Trade Paper Edition, 360 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:science, mathematics

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In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World by Ian Stewart

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Some chapters, especially in the middle, about topology and imaginary numbers, are written so unclearly that I learned nothing from them. However, those on thermodynamics and information theory are excellent. An unbalanced book that is nevertheless worth reading. ( )
  AlienIndie | May 20, 2016 |
Here Ian Stewart covers 17 equations that transformed our understanding of the world, normally either by their application in science, or because they are directly scientific in nature. Told in chronological order, starting with Pythagorus, the historical features and cultural significance of each equation are comprehensively described. Much of this is interesting, even entertaining, though it does appear too much on occasion.

What is critical here, though, is the explanation of the equations themselves. I was really hoping to fully understand each one. There was little chance of this, though. Sometimes Stewart provides extremely basic and clear explanations of mathematical concepts, such as what the two above a number means. Although anyone reading this should know this already, I never minded this. But there are many instances where he also describes another mathematical tool, such as matrices, and gives no explanation at all for what it is or how it works. This is the crux of the issue with the book - it combines some very deft explanations of mathematical or scientific concepts with other sections that are either too rushed or too full of jargon. I found this annoying and wished he'd spent more time trying to explain everything as clearly as he was occasionally clearly capable of.

Overall, to give a flavour of the influence of maths on science, and where key mathematical ideas sit in history, this was a useful book, but for each specific chapter I was left feeling I have seen clearer explanations elsewhere by other writers when more time was given to making them clear to the reader. ( )
  RachDan | Nov 26, 2014 |
Few people have such a helicopter view on physics and science in general and even fewer know how to write a book on it. Ian Stewart did such a good job that we even forgive him the common error that George Lemaitre was French. ( )
  bluyssae | Jul 12, 2014 |
Good read. Steward did a very good job explaining complex equations to the general public and the history (and stories) behind them. ( )
  amarcobio | Sep 11, 2013 |
No-nonsense highlighting of equations, as opposed to avoiding them in the manner of many other mathematics books for general readers, and applied math as opposed to pure math -- discussions of how the equations are used in the physical and other sciences, in engineering, and in technology. (And in economics, in the case of the *mis*used Black-Scholes equation for financial derivatives. The last chapter is partly a devastating indictment of the world financial industry.) A typically high-quality and enjoyable book from Stewart.
  fpagan | Aug 4, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0465029736, Hardcover)

In In Pursuit of the Unknown, celebrated mathematician Ian Stewart uses a handful of mathematical equations to explore the vitally important connections between math and human progress. We often overlook the historical link between mathematics and technological advances, says Stewart—but this connection is integral to any complete understanding of human history.

Equations are modeled on the patterns we find in the world around us, says Stewart, and it is through equations that we are able to make sense of, and in turn influence, our world. Stewart locates the origins of each equation he presents—from Pythagoras’s Theorem to Newton’s Law of Gravity to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity—within a particular historical moment, elucidating the development of mathematical and philosophical thought necessary for each equation’s discovery. None of these equations emerged in a vacuum, Stewart shows; each drew, in some way, on past equations and the thinking of the day. In turn, all of these equations paved the way for major developments in mathematics, science, philosophy, and technology. Without logarithms (invented in the early 17th century by John Napier and improved by Henry Briggs), scientists would not have been able to calculate the movement of the planets, and mathematicians would not have been able to develop fractal geometry. The Wave Equation is one of the most important equations in physics, and is crucial for engineers studying the vibrations in vehicles and the response of buildings to earthquakes. And the equation at the heart of Information Theory, devised by Claude Shannon, is the basis of digital communication today.

An approachable and informative guide to the equations upon which nearly every aspect of scientific and mathematical understanding depends, In Pursuit of the Unknown is also a reminder that equations have profoundly influenced our thinking and continue to make possible many of the advances that we take for granted.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:13 -0400)

In In Pursuit of the Unknown, celebrated mathematician Ian Stewart uses a handful of mathematical equations to explore the vitally important connections between math and human progress. We often overlook the historical link between mathematics and technological advances, says Stewart--but this connection is integral to any complete understanding of human history. Equations are modeled on the patterns we find in the world around us, says Stewart, and it is through equations that we are able to make sense of, and in turn influence, our world. Stewart locates the origins of each equation he presents--from Pythagoras's Theorem to Newton's Law of Gravity to Einstein's Theory of Relativity--within a particular historical moment, elucidating the development of mathematical and philosophical thought necessary for each equation's discovery. None of these equations emerged in a vacuum, Stewart shows; each drew, in some way, on past equations and the thinking of the day. In turn, all of these equations paved the way for major developments in mathematics, science, philosophy, and technology. Without logarithms (invented in the early 17th century by John Napier and improved by Henry Briggs), scientists would not have been able to calculate the movement of the planets, and mathematicians would not have been able to develop fractal geometry. The Wave Equation is one of the most important equations in physics, and is crucial for engineers studying the vibrations in vehicles and the response of buildings to earthquakes. And the equation at the heart of Information Theory, devised by Claude Shannon, is the basis of digital communication today. An approachable and informative guide to the equations upon which nearly every aspect of scientific and mathematical understanding depends, In Pursuit of the Unknown is also a reminder that equations have profoundly influenced our thinking and continue to make possible many of the advances that we take for granted.… (more)

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