The Language of Mathematics: Making the Invisible Visible

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9780716733799: The Language of Mathematics: Making the Invisible Visible

Explains both the historical development and the current breadth of mathematics without assuming any technical knowledge on the part of the reader

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Review:

Keith Devlin is trying to be the Carl Sagan of mathematics, and he is succeeding. He writes: "Though the structures and patterns of mathematics reflect the structure of, and resonate in, the human mind every bit as much as do the structures and patterns of music, human beings have developed no mathematical equivalent of a pair of ears. Mathematics can be seen only with the eyes of the mind." All of his books are attempts to get around this problem, to "try to communicate to others some sense of what it is we experience--some sense of the simplicity, the precision, the purity, and the elegance that give the patterns of mathematics their aesthetic value."

Life by the Numbers, Devlin's companion book to the PBS series of the same name, is heavily illustrated and soothingly low on equations. But as he says, wanting mathematics without abstract notation "is rather like saying that Shakespeare would be much easier to understand if it were written in simpler language."

The Language of Mathematics is Devlin's second iteration of the approach he used in Mathematics: The Science of Patterns. It covers all the same ground (and uses many of the same words) as the latter, but with fewer glossy pictures, sidebars, and references. Devlin has also added chapters on statistics and on mathematical patterns in nature. --Mary Ellen Curtin

About the Author:

KEITH DEVLIN is Dean of the School of Science at Saint Mary's College of California and Senior Researcher at Stanford University's Center for the Study of Language and Information. A key participant in the six-part PBS television series "Life by the Numbers," he is the author of Life by the Numbers; Goodbye, Descartes; Logic and Information; and Mathematics: The New Golden Age. His most recent book is InfoSense: Turning Information into Knowledge (W.H. Freeman, 1999). Since 1983, he has written a regular column on mathematics and computers for The Guardian in his native Britain, and writes a monthly column, "Devlin's Angle," for the Web journal MAA Online.

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