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Review - The Colossal Book of Mathematics - Martin Gardner

 

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Don't be put off by the dry-sounding title. Home in instead on the subtitle: classic puzzles, paradoxes and problems.

It's the the ultimate compendium from America's best-loved mathematical expert. Whether discussing hexaflexagons or number theory, Klein bottles or the essence of "nothing", Martin Gardner has single-handedly created the field of recreational mathematics. The Colossal Book of Mathematics collects together Gardner's most popular pieces from his legendary "Mathematical Games" column, which ran in Scientific American for 25 years. Gardner's array of absorbing puzzles and mind-twisting paradoxes opens mathematics up to the world at large, inspiring people to see past numbers and formulas and experience the application of mathematical principles to the mysterious world around them. With articles on topics ranging from simple algebra to the twisting surfaces of Mobius strips, from an endless game of Bulgarian solitaire to the unreachable dream of time travel, this volume comprises a substantial and definitive monument to Gardner's influence on mathematics, science, and culture.

In its 12 sections, The Colossal Book of Mathematics explores a wide range of areas, each startlingly illuminated by Gardner's incisive expertise. Beginning with seemingly simple topics, Gardner expertly guides us through complicated and wondrous worlds: by way of basic algebra we contemplate the mesmerising, often hilarious, linguistic and numerical possibilities of palindromes; using simple geometry, he dissects the principles of symmetry upon which the renowned mathematical artist MC Escher constructs his unique, dizzying universe. Gardner, like few thinkers today, melds a rigorous scientific skepticism with a profound artistic and imaginative impulse. His stunning exploration of "The Church of the Fourth Dimension", for example, bridges the disparate worlds of religion and science by brilliantly imagining the spatial possibility of God's presence in the world as a fourth dimension, at once "everywhere and nowhere."

Only in hardback.            

Reviewed by Peter Spitz        

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Last update 05 June 2007