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Ernest Zebrowski

A history of the circle

Mathematics is very good at giving precise answers, but many people have wondered just how useful this is in practice. In A history of the circle Ernest Zebrowski takes a look at this question, using the circle as an example. He dicusses how meaningful it is to calculate pi to billions of decimals when we can only measure circumference of a circle to few decimal places. He goes on to look at the invention of the wheel, at the occurence of circles in astronomy and at waves and the work of Fourier. In the last couple of chapters he looks further at the theoretical/practical dichotomy.

However, it is difficult to see what readership this book is intended for. The various examples given in the book are reasonably interesting if you don't already know about them, but I felt that none of the discussion was deep enough to satisfy a reasonable knowledgable reader. On the other hand there are quite a few equations in the book - even differential equations. Now you don't have to understand this mathematics in order to follow the book but I feel that it is likely to put off a beginner in the subject. The one group who might find the book of use are those who are at the start of the study of calculus, and want to see how it relates to the real world.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 232 pages  
ISBN: 0813528984
Salesrank: 3195848
Weight:0.88 lbs
Published: 2000 Rutgers University Press
Amazon price $26.76
Marketplace:New from $21.91:Used from $4.44
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Amazon.co.uk info
Hardcover 240 pages  
ISBN: 1853434612
Salesrank: 2975459
Weight:1.2 lbs
Published: 1999 Free Association Books
Marketplace:New from £36.61:Used from £2.25
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Amazon.ca info
Paperback 232 pages  
ISBN: 0813528984
Salesrank: 1213094
Weight:0.88 lbs
Published: 2000 Rutgers Univ Pr
Amazon price CDN$ 40.89
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 32.03:Used from CDN$ 0.01
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Product Description

The concept of the circle is ubiquitous. It can be described mathematically, represented physically, and employed technologically. The circle is an elegant, abstract form that has been transformed by humans into tangible, practical forms to make our lives easier.

And yet no one has ever discovered a true mathematical circle. Rainbows are fuzzy; car tires are flat on the bottom, and even the most precise roller bearings have measurable irregularities. Ernest Zebrowski, Jr., discusses why investigations of the circle have contributed enormously to our current knowledge of the physical universe. Beginning with the ancient mathematicians and culminating in twentieth-century theories of space and time, the mathematics of the circle has pointed many investigators in fruitful directions in their quests to unravel nature’s secrets. Johannes Kepler, for example, triggered a scientific revolution in 1609 when he challenged the conception of the earth’s circular motion around the sun. Arab and European builders instigated the golden age of mosque and cathedral building when they questioned the Roman structural arches that were limited to geometrical semicircles.

Throughout his book, Zebrowski emphasizes the concepts underlying these mathematicians’ calculations, and how these concepts are linked to real-life examples. Substantiated by easy-to-follow mathematical reasoning and clear illustrations, this accessible book presents a novel and interesting discussion of the circle in technology, culture, history, and science.