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Ian Stewart

Why Beauty is Truth

Although symmetry seems to be predominantly a geometrical property, Why Beauty is Truth: A History of Symmetryshows that it really gained its importance in mathematics and physics via a different route - that of the solutions of polynomial equations. Ian Stewart starts at the time of the Babylonians, who were able to solve quadratic equations, and moves through the solutions of the cubic and quartic in the Renaissance. Hence we get to the work of Abel and Galois, who demonstrated the insolubility of the quintic by radicals. This was the start of group theory, and the rest of the book shows how this had much influence in later mathematics and physics.

Stewart shows how Sophus Lie applied the notion of a group to continuous systems. He describes the work of Einstein, as well as the development of quantum theory, showing how symmetry has a natural place in modern physics. There is also a chapter on Edward Witten and Superstring theory. Stewart also clearly has a soft spot for quaternions and octonions, showing how these almost forgotten structures may yet play an important part in physics.

The book gives prominence to biographies of the mathematicians concerned, and some people might feel that there isn't enough maths, however I felt that Stewart struck the right balance, and so kept the book accessible to a wide readership.

Amazon.com info
Hardcover 304 pages  
ISBN: 046508236X
Salesrank: 836622
Weight:1.25 lbs
Published: 2007 Basic Books
Amazon price $14.00
Marketplace:New from $9.25:Used from $1.25
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Amazon.co.uk info
Hardcover 290 pages  
ISBN: 046508236X
Salesrank: 311834
Weight:1.25 lbs
Published: 2007 Basic Books
Marketplace:New from £27.73:Used from £1.17
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Amazon.ca info
Hardcover 304 pages  
ISBN: 046508236X
Salesrank: 631080
Weight:1.25 lbs
Published: 2007 Basic Books
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 48.21:Used from CDN$ 0.88
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Product Description
At the heart of relativity theory, quantum mechanics, string theory, and much of modern cosmology lies one concept: symmetry. In Why Beauty Is Truth, world-famous mathematician Ian Stewart narrates the history of the emergence of this remarkable area of study. Stewart introduces us to such characters as the Renaissance Italian genius, rogue, scholar, and gambler Girolamo Cardano, who stole the modern method of solving cubic equations and published it in the first important book on algebra, and the young revolutionary Evariste Galois, who refashioned the whole of mathematics and founded the field of group theory only to die in a pointless duel over a woman before his work was published. Stewart also explores the strange numerology of real mathematics, in which particular numbers have unique and unpredictable properties related to symmetry. He shows how Wilhelm Killing discovered “Lie groups” with 14, 52, 78, 133, and 248 dimensions-groups whose very existence is a profound puzzle. Finally, Stewart describes the world beyond superstrings: the “octonionic” symmetries that may explain the very existence of the universe.