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American Mathematical Society
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Robert Osserman

Poetry of the Universe

I have to say that I felt that the preface of Poetry of the Universe was something of a disaster. Robert Osserman seemed to suggest that just as Columbus' voyage in 1492 had shown that the Earth wasn't flat, so the COBE microwave map showed that space wasn't flat - I would say that both ideas were seriously flawed. As I continued with the book I felt that I had been a bit hasty in my judgement, at least on the issue of the Earth. The book in fact gives an excellent account of how the size and shape of the Earth was known two millennia before Columbus, and of the problems its curvature presented for mapmakers.

On the issue of the COBE map, which I would say demonstatrated the flatness, rather than curvature, of space (although space-time is still curved), I was less sure of Osserman's account. The problem wasn't so much that the book didn't deal with it properly, rather that it didn't get as far as 1992. If it were written 50 years before then it would have provided an excellent explanation of how relativity allows the universe to be finite yet without a boundary. But readers wanting to know about the currently favoured model of an infinite expanding universe are likely to end up confused, and the book doesn't touch on important issues such as dark matter or inflation at all. It's a pity really, as Osserman's expression of the poetical nature of mathematics, and, for example, his links between the lives of mathematicians and composers, could have given this book a wide readership. If you're not too concerned with the modern cosmology aspect then you may well find this book an enjoyable read.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 210 pages  
ISBN: 0385474296
Salesrank: 1238853
Weight:0.35 lbs
Published: 1996 Anchor
Amazon price $15.00
Marketplace:New from $5.00:Used from $0.75
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Amazon.co.uk info
Paperback 224 pages  
ISBN: 0385474296
Salesrank: 1702354
Weight:0.35 lbs
Published: 1996 Anchor Books
Marketplace::Used from £0.71
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Amazon.ca info
Paperback 224 pages  
ISBN: 0385474296
Salesrank: 676234
Weight:0.35 lbs
Published: 1996 Anchor
Amazon price CDN$ 18.95
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 8.38:Used from CDN$ 0.01
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Product Description
In the bestselling literary tradition of Lewis Thomas's Lives of a Cell and James Watson's The Double Helix, Poetry of the Universe is a delightful and compelling narrative charting the evolution of mathematical ideas that have helped to illuminate the nature of the observable universe. In a richly anecdotal fashion, the book explores the leaps of imagination and vision in mathematics that have helped pioneer our understanding of the world around us.