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Review - The Art of the Infinite - Robert & Ellen Kaplan

 

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The title is a little misleading, in the infinity only plays a small part in this book - a better guide is the subtitle the pleasures of mathematics, as this is tour of the mathematical facts and wonders that delight the authors.

In principle this is a great idea, and in places it holds up well, but all too often there is a welter of equations and diagrams that would not be out of place in an A-level (high school) textbook, and that will understandably put most readers off.

Probably the winner of the 'most skipable chapter' award goes to the Euclid alone one, which reminds this reviewer of why he hated geometry at school. It goes through geometric proof after geometric proof, and it is simply boring!

To make matters worse, the prose tends to the pompous, especially in the short 'interlude' chapters which seem to be attempts at philosophy but resort to lines like the infinite disguised as the indefinite is our onlie [sic] begetter.

Kaplan's book on zero, The Nothing that Is, had the occasional tendency to get flowery and/or whimsical, but either the greater focus of the topic, or editorial control kept the book readable and enjoyable. Here, there seems much less to recommend it. If you want an overview of maths, try (for instance) Ian Stewart's much more accessible From Here to Infinity.

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Reviewed by Peter Spitz

                     

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Last update 05 June 2007