In Pursuit of the Unknown by Ian Stewart
17 Equations That Changed the World

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Synopsis

In In Pursuit of the Unknown, celebrated mathematician Ian Stewart uses a handful of mathematical equations to explore the vitally important connections between math and human progress. We often overlook the historical link between mathematics and technological advances, says Stewart—but this connection is integral to any complete understanding of human history.

Equations are modeled on the patterns we find in the world around us, says Stewart, and it is through equations that we are able to make sense of, and in turn influence, our world. Stewart locates the origins of each equation he presents—from Pythagoras’s Theorem to Newton’s Law of Gravity to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity—within a particular historical moment, elucidating the development of mathematical and philosophical thought necessary for each equation’s discovery. None of these equations emerged in a vacuum, Stewart shows; each drew, in some way, on past equations and the thinking of the day. In turn, all of these equations paved the way for major developments in mathematics, science, philosophy, and technology. Without logarithms (invented in the early 17th century by John Napier and improved by Henry Briggs), scientists would not have been able to calculate the movement of the planets, and mathematicians would not have been able to develop fractal geometry. The Wave Equation is one of the most important equations in physics, and is crucial for engineers studying the vibrations in vehicles and the response of buildings to earthquakes. And the equation at the heart of Information Theory, devised by Claude Shannon, is the basis of digital communication today.

An approachable and informative guide to the equations upon which nearly every aspect of scientific and mathematical understanding depends, In Pursuit of the Unknown is also a reminder that equations have profoundly influenced our thinking and continue to make possible many of the advances that we take for granted.

 

About Ian Stewart

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Ian Stewart is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and active researcher at the University of Warwick. He is also a regular research visitor at the University of Houston, the Institute of Mathematics and Its Applications in Minneapolis, and the Santa Fe institute. His writing has appeared in New Scientist, Discover, Scientific American, and many newspapers in the U.K. and U.S. He lives in Coventry, England.
 
Published March 13, 2012 by Basic Books. 354 pages
Genres: Science & Math, Humor & Entertainment, History. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for In Pursuit of the Unknown

Kirkus Reviews

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Stewart (Mathematics Emeritus/Warwick Univ.;

Jan 24 2012 | Read Full Review of In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17...

Publishers Weekly

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Stewart (Game, Set, and Math) shares his enthusiasm as well as his knowledge in this tour of ground-breaking equations and the research they supported. “Equations are the lifeblood of mathematics, sci

Jan 16 2012 | Read Full Review of In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17...

Publishers Weekly

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Stewart (Game, Set, and Math) shares his enthusiasm as well as his knowledge in this tour of ground-breaking equations and the research they supported.

Jan 16 2012 | Read Full Review of In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17...

New York Journal of Books

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“In Pursuit of the Unknown is a really fun read. . . . Ian Stewart is a genius . . .”

Mar 13 2012 | Read Full Review of In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17...

New York Journal of Books

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“In Pursuit of the Unknown is a really fun read. . . . Ian Stewart is a genius . . .”

Mar 13 2012 | Read Full Review of In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17...

Washington Independent Review of Books

The interested reader can test the formula at home with a sharp knife and a cold stick (or cube) of butter: no matter how many faces, edges and vertices are added by cutting off corners and/or edges — but without opening a shaft all the way through the stick or separating it into two or more piec...

| Read Full Review of In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17...

City Book Review

From his first paragraphs explaining how the lowly equal sign came to be, Stewart explores the origins of seventeen equations that have heralded changes great and small.

May 05 2012 | Read Full Review of In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17...

EE Times

You can indeed play in any key and have it sound the ...

May 02 2012 | Read Full Review of In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17...

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