Wonders Beyond Numbers: A Brief History of All Things Mathematical

Wonders Beyond Numbers: A Brief History of All Things Mathematical

In this book, Johnny Ball tells one of the most important stories in world history - the story of mathematics. By introducing us to the major characters and leading us through many historical twists and turns, Johnny slowly unravels the tale of how humanity built up a knowledge and understanding of shapes, numbers and patterns from ancient times, a story that leads directl...

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Title:Wonders Beyond Numbers: A Brief History of All Things Mathematical
Author:Johnny Ball
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Edition Language:English

Wonders Beyond Numbers: A Brief History of All Things Mathematical Reviews

  • John

    A must read for anyone remotely interested in mathematics or science. It goes a long way back detailing the history and evolution of the science.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    Covers mathematics and some major mathematicians from ancient times to about the time of Newton. Fairly interesting and the math is accessible to someone at a high school level.

  • Brian Clegg

    For many people, Johnny Ball's TV programmes were the first indication that mathematics does not have to be frightening or hard work, but could actually be fun. In the introduction to Wonders Beyond Numbers, Ball mentions being particularly inspired by Martin Gardner's books of mathematical puzzles and diversions - as were so many - and Ball's TV programmes had a similar inspirational effect, particularly for younger viewers.

    In this chunky (480 page) book, Ball takes on 'a brief history of all t

    For many people, Johnny Ball's TV programmes were the first indication that mathematics does not have to be frightening or hard work, but could actually be fun. In the introduction to Wonders Beyond Numbers, Ball mentions being particularly inspired by Martin Gardner's books of mathematical puzzles and diversions - as were so many - and Ball's TV programmes had a similar inspirational effect, particularly for younger viewers.

    In this chunky (480 page) book, Ball takes on 'a brief history of all things mathematical.' In doing so, he gives us a broad sweep, making things more interesting than would be possible if concentrating purely on the work of mathematicians. So, for example, in starting with the Ancient Greeks, he brings in philosophers who had little direct input to maths, but who helped produce the thought processes that would inspire the big numerical names. Towards the end of the book, there are a good number of physicists brought in who, again, didn't contribute much to mathematics (it's hard to think of less mathematical physicist, for example, than Faraday), but who were contributing to a discipline where maths has become absolutely central.

    Wisely, Ball drives the narrative from the people, rather than taking us through a whole list of mathematical disciplines and components. It's not that the branches of mathematics aren't there. We get plenty of geometry, for example, and algebra, number theory, calculus... the works, all the way up to topology and other trendy topics. But it never feels like we're reading a watered-down textbook. The relationship between human beings and mathematics always prevails.

    It's often the case with books of this kind that the focus is entirely on Europe, but Ball gives us a satisfying couple of chapters that take in China, India, Central America and the Arabic-speaking world. If anything, this was the best part of the book for me, as it covered material that is less frequently seen and is a real eye-opener.

    I also particularly liked the section at the back labelled 'Wow Factor Mathematical Index' which is really more of an appendix, diving into the actual mathematical bits in more detail for those who feel up to it. Here we discover everything from the way that the Ancient Egyptians did division, through a calculation to estimate the length of Archimedes' 'lever to move the Earth', to Al-Khwarizmi's algebra. It was sensible to separate this material off, as it's significantly more detailed than is the rest of the book, but satisfying to have it if required.

    Wonders Beyond Numbers delivers a whole lot of maths, mathematical history and biography - if I've a criticism it fits too much in, which means that many of the individual biographical sections are more summary than I would have liked. The result is a book that isn't idea to sit and read end to end. I found it better to dip into on a regular basis - great for commuting or bedtime reads. The speed of coverage meant also that some of the history was a little over-simplified. For example, we are told that the idea the Earth was cylindrical 'remained unchanged for some 700 years'. Yet many philosophers in that period from Aristotle to Eratosthenes (who assumed a spherical Earth in his calculation of its size) considered it a sphere.

    If maths has always seemed little more than arithmetic, or you can't see the point of algebra, or it all seems a set of rules handed down from on high at school, without any context of where these ideas came from, this is great book to start making sense of this most remarkable of disciplines.

  • Michael

    I have never read a book with more typos

  • Jrobertus

    Ball is a self-taught mathematician who has written scripts for a number of BBC programs. This book is a total hoot, if you are a nerd like I am. Ball gives a breezy but informative tour through some fascinating stories about mathematicians, their lives and times, and their discoveries. Are you interested in knowing how to prove Pythagoras’s theory? Well he will show you how it’s done. How did Eratosthenes accurately measure the circumference of the earth around 200 BC? He used shadows and trigo

    Ball is a self-taught mathematician who has written scripts for a number of BBC programs. This book is a total hoot, if you are a nerd like I am. Ball gives a breezy but informative tour through some fascinating stories about mathematicians, their lives and times, and their discoveries. Are you interested in knowing how to prove Pythagoras’s theory? Well he will show you how it’s done. How did Eratosthenes accurately measure the circumference of the earth around 200 BC? He used shadows and trigonometry. If Columbus was a smart as the Greeks were, he would never have set sail in 1492. Cultures from the Sumerians to our own time have been intrigued by the ideas of mathematics as well as their practical utility and this book makes the story great fun. It is told in self-contained vignettes that allow you to nibble your way to knowledge at your pace.

  • Jim

    A well-written and entertaining history of Math nad Mathmaticians from earliest tiems to today.

  • Dogsandbooks

    Lays out the major people and breakthroughs in math in chronology. Useful for time line and some appealing personal stories. Like most encyclopedias it's just the intro. Have to go elsewhere for depth or explanation. Some good charts. But very good for putting developments in chronological order. DPL book

  • Ian Lambert

    Great time line and some interesting insights. Mostly enjoyable but some of the summaries are a bit unusual and the descriptions of mathematical diagrams a bit perplexing.

  • Jerrid Kruse

    A bit too focused on individuals to provide context or depth I was hoping for, but the book is a very complete introduction to the people and ideas of mathematics. The book could easily be considered a short history of science as well.

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