Review of

**Mathematical Sorcery**, by Calvin C. Clawson, Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, MA, 1999. 294 pp., $16.50 (paper) ISBN 073820496X.

Five out of five stars

This book is a
popular history of mathematics with a catchy and slightly disingenuous title.
For there is no sorcery or magic involved, it is the wonder and usefulness of
mathematics in both the pure and applied form.

It begins with
the emergence of the concept of counting and the historical context as to why
it emerged. With the development of agriculture, both animal husbandry and
crops, human groups became fixed in location. This led to the emergence of
governments to organize and protect the populations, which led to the levying
of taxes. All of this required the ability to count, tally and record, which
meant the mental concept of numbers had to develop as well as a way to
efficiently record and manipulate them. The last chapter of history covers the
development of and basic applications of calculus, so the history essentially
ends in the first half of the eighteenth century.

The journey
from start to finish is an understandable tour through several of the most
significant advances in mathematics, from the development and use of negative
numbers, fractions, irrational and transcendental numbers to complex numbers. Clawson
is to be commended for he does not skimp on the use of formulas, when one is
needed one is used.

Math, science
and the increasing complexity of societies have been married into a feedback
loop for thousands of years. Sometimes the need led to the development of
mathematics, for example, when society needed counting numbers, the math was
invented. Other times the math had to be invented to explain the science. In
other circumstances, the math was developed before society had a use for it.

In all cases,
the development of the math proceeded and Clawson does an excellent job in
explaining the new math concepts, the reason it was developed and the niche it
filled in society.

## No comments:

## Post a Comment