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Calling math history geeks - any reading suggestions?

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Dec2-12, 12:07 PM
P: 55
Hey everyone! Inquiring minds (well, at least one) want to know: what are some good books on math from a historical perspective?

I recently acquired "Mathematics of Nonmathematicians" (Dover Books) as the reviews suggested it was mostly historical. It's not very heavy on the math though, which is obviously just fulfilling the title.

I have a mechanical engineering degree (BSMS, currently plugging away at an MS while working full-time). Not that that means anything, but I am interested in more "heavy" texts. Ones that can point to how those much smarter than myself maybe approached problems, and how they arrived at their solutions (e.g., history of Fourier Series, Calculus, or Laplace Transforms, etc.).

I have a lot of Amazon hits, but reviews can sometimes be misleading or overzealous about how awesome the content really is. So, with that any suggestions? Does such a book even exist?
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Dec2-12, 09:27 PM
P: 698
One book I really like is "An imaginary tale" by Nahin. Has a lot of history on how people started using complex numbers, and teaches you basic complex analysis along the way. Whether or not you know complex analysis (including contour integration) you will probably like it, and you certainly have enough math to read it (multivariable calculus is all you need).

Another example that has history going back thousands of years and including some "modern" (late 20th century) contributions is "a histoy of pi" by Beckmann. Is about pi, of course. Some folks in the past were really, really smart. I never realized Euler was so prolific!


Dec2-12, 10:36 PM
P: 439
"What is Mathematics" By Courant, so while not entirely in the same vein as a math history book, it pretty much covers some neat mathematics.

Dec3-12, 01:14 AM
HW Helper
P: 7,173
Calling math history geeks - any reading suggestions?

A History of Pi - somewhat light reading, goes into some generic mathematical history.
Dec3-12, 02:32 AM
micromass's Avatar
P: 18,346
Why don't you read the original papers by Fourier and Laplace? Doing that is often very useful and enlightening. You do have to know french for it though
Dec3-12, 09:40 PM
P: 55
Going to start lighting the kindle on fire, thanks for all the responses so far!

Micromass, I wish I did. There has to be some translations floating around; I'll post if I come across them.
Dec4-12, 10:09 AM
P: 82
I'm really enjoying a book about the number zero called, well, Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife. I've read half of the book so far, and it pretty much tried to sum up human history from the ancients up until now from the eyes of the (perhaps not-so) humble zero. I'm up to the time of Descartes so far and the formal development of calculus.

Edit: Oh, but sorry, this isn't heavy on math at all!
Dec4-12, 07:45 PM
P: 8
Quite frankly, no. Such a book wouldn't exist. The main reason here is that historically, historians (alliteration :) ) disagree quite a bit on origins of mathematics and what came from where. This is true even if we are talking civilizations (east vs west) or even whether it was Newton or Leibniz that invented calculus. A nice way to look at history would be to read the actual letters exchanged by early mathematicians, especially on the topics which aren't intuitive at first blush (like Bayesian probability)

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