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An Imaginary Tale: The Story of √-1 by…

An Imaginary Tale: The Story of √-1 (1998)

by Paul J. Nahin

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On occasion, I find myself in the math/science section of the bookstore. Having a very thorough background in mathematics, I find it interesting to read books written by notable professionals in their fields on certain subjects. This one caught my eye (pun unintended), and I just had to get it!

The book chronicles the history and usage of the imaginary number, i (or j, if you're an electrical engineer), or √-1.

For those of you who have taken a few math classes, you'll realize that i cannot possibly exist in the realm of Real numbers, as with respect to that set of numbers, it simply does not make any sense! Thus, Numbers are broken down into two sets: Real and Imaginary. And when a number contains both of these values, it is considered Complex, or a+bi. Complex numbers work very well as Cartesian coordinates.

But enough about math! Let's discuss Nahin's book. While not having the target audience of The Da Vinci Code in mind, Nahin paints a picture of a 2,000 year old known history of complex numbers, complete with the masterminds who tried to solve problems involving it.

So, if you've ever wondered why we make such a big deal about imaginary number, or how they came to be used in all the different technologies in which they're used, you might find this book interesting. If you think math is boring, but you have an acute case of insomnia, you may also enjoy this book, but for different reasons. The only instance in which I would recommend you avoid this book is if you hate mat and have no intentions of improving your intellect or knowledge of mathematical subjects. ( )
4 vote aethercowboy | Feb 11, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0691027951, Hardcover)

At the very beginning of his book on i, the square root of minus one, Paul Nahin warns his readers: "An Imaginary Tale has a very strong historical component to it, but that does not mean it is a mathematical lightweight. But don't read too much into that either. It is *not* a scholarly tome meant to be read only by some mythical, elite group.... Large chunks of this book can, in fact, be read and understood by a high school senior who has paid attention to his or her teachers in the standard fare of pre-college courses. Still, it will be most accessible to the million or so who each year complete a college course in freshman calculus.... But when I need to do an integral, let me assure you I have not fallen to my knees in dumbstruck horror. And neither should you."

Nahin is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of New Hampshire; he has also written a number of science fiction short stories. His style is far more lively and humane than a mathematics textbook while covering much of the same ground. Readers will end up with a good sense for the mathematics of i and for its applications in physics and engineering. --Mary Ellen Curtin

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

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