Mathematics, like other forms of art and intellect, has had a long history, since the first numerical writing in years’ past. Although math has a long track record over time, its history is not taught enough (or not taught at at) in today’s schools. School children, nowadays, don’t know the significance of quadratic equations – that these equations have been solved for at least 4,000 years, and that they were recorded on clay tablets that were discovered in places like Iraq. In fact, historic points like this are usually hidden away in newspapers – a medium that children rarely read or look at.
One way to educate people, especially children, about the history of mathematics – and eventually close the gap on knowing the history – is to introduce them to books that talk about it. As we go over these five books on math and notable mathematicians, readers would learn not only about the subject itself, but also the unique history behind it.
“Robert Kanigel does a good job in illustrating the life and the ideas of self-taught Indian genius Srinivasa Ramanujan,” says Dean Jacoby, a writer at Essayroo.com. “From his upbringing in a poor family, to doing original research in his teenage years, to his work at Cambridge, and up until his death in 1920, Ramanujan’s legacy lives on, as he was made one of the most influential mathematicians in the world, conjuring strange yet beautiful formulas, and searching for their meaning.”
Among a sea of biographies on Leonhard Euler, Ronald Calinger’s take on this brilliant mathematician is of significance. This book not only concentrates on his life, but also talks about his mathematical contributions in depth – both his life and his career go hand-in-hand, without one side overwhelming the other. With over 650 pages filled with useful and interesting material, Calinger’s book is a must-read for math fans, historians, and people looking a fresh reference in the subject.
Illustrated through a series of strange adventures in the Greek Islands, as well as through the jungles around the Orinoco River and elsewhere, Euclid in the Rainforest aims to get to the meaning of truth in mathematics. This book tackles tricky concepts and truths like: infinity, topology, probability, formal classical logic, etc.
There’s also a story about a student who thoroughly believed that only his calculator is an object lesson for any skeptics who thought that math was nothing more than just “sums.”
“Dirk Struik is one to deliver great lectures without any using any speech notes,” says Jake Farmer, a journalist at Stateofwriting.com. “As a result, his words ring with clarity in both his lectures and in his written word. Down-to-earth and straightforward, Struik’s A Concise History of Mathematics serves as a breath of fresh air for people wanting to retreat from today’s norms in the subject.”
Of all the books that were named on this list, Isaac Newton’s is the predominant of the bunch. This book is an example of his predominance.
In this book, Newton explains his ideas on mathematics:
- Nature has laws that can be expressed in the language of math.
- Using Euclid’s geometry, the laws of motion and gravity can be applied to the motion of the planets and the strange wobbles in the Moon’s position.
As such, no mathematical book has had more impact than Newton’s.
Although math can be an intimidating subject for most people, that shouldn’t stop the student, the researcher, or even a regular person from learning more about the subject through its history and the people responsible for building on it and contributing ideas to it over the last few thousand years. And, with many mathematicians leaving their contributions in writing, they also make great writers for interested readers to read from.
These five books are great for anyone who is interested in math, or wanting to know more about the subject. Whether you’re an expert number-cruncher, or still in school learning, or a history buff, these titles will not only illustrate the beauty of math through the many techniques, but also spotlight the people who made math very significant to the point where it’s a much-needed necessity in schools.