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John Derbyshire is a mathematician and linguist by education, a systems analyst by profession, and a celebrated writer in his spare time. His work appears frequently in National Review and The New Criterion. Born and raised in England, he has made his home in the United States for the past fifteen years.


This book's title is deceiving, for Derbyshire offers a very real and very entertaining survey of the development of algebra. "Real" and "imaginary" refer to types of numbers, and Derbyshire (Prime Obsession) opens with a basic primer on the various flavors of numbers and polynomials before looking at algebra's development over 3,000 years. As he explains how algebraic notation wended its way from Sumerian scratches on clay to such contemporary mathematical structures as Calabi-Yau manifolds (used by Andrew Wiles to solve Fermat's Last Theorem), Derbyshire introduces readers to the colorful figures who made contributions: Hypatia, whose death in Alexandria at the hands of an angry Christian mob marked the end of mathematics in the ancient world; 19th-century mathematician Hermann Grassmann, who published a 3,000-page translation of the ancient Hindu text the Rig Veda after his work on vector spaces was ignored; and Emanuel Lasker, more famous as the longest-reigning world chess champion than for his contributions to ring theory. This book will appeal to readers who relished the rigorous mathematical discursions interspersed with informal historical vignettes of David Berlinski's A Tour of the Calculus, but less mathematically inclined readers more interested in the history of science will also enjoy it. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

National Review columnist Derbyshire follows up Prime Obsession with a similar book on the historical development of algebraic principles. As a mathematician, linguist, systems analyst, and critic, he interweaves historical insight and biographical sketches into a book that is both compelling and easy to follow. The story line delves into algebraic principles concentrating on mathematical abstractions, historical narratives, and the development of mathematical ideas. Derbyshire moves quickly through the contributions of select mathematicians (not a complete who's who in algebra), including Diophantus, Descartes, Bernhard Riemann, and David Hilbert. The text-complete with mathematical primers, solved problems, figures, and historical vignettes-is written at a high school level for a general audience interested in recreational mathematics. Recommended for all school and public libraries and mainly undergraduate academic libraries.-Ian Gordon, Brock Univ. Lib., St. Catharines, Ont. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

[A] very entertaining survey of the development of algebra. (Publishers Weekly)

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