Negative Math: How Mathematical Rules Can Be Positively Bent

Alberto A. Martinez, Author
Alberto A. Martinez, Author Princeton University Press $30.95 (267p) ISBN 978-0-691-12309-7
Reviewed on: 11/07/2005
Release date: 11/01/2005
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It's a rare person who describes negative numbers (or any numbers) as ""unassuming but fun,"" and he is likely the same person who would notice that negative numbers ""stand as just about the only kind of numbers about which a book has not been written."" That man is Martinez, and in this book, he touches on mathematics history and great mathematical squabbles about the ""evident meaning"" of negative numbers, all with the goal of sexing up negative numbers and proposing a ""meaningful math"" that could rekindle the ""connection between mathematical truth and physical experience."" No small feat, and the outcome is a qualified success: he writes with clarity and provides context (French novelist Henri Beyle resented the notion that two negatives make a positive) that helps layreaders to deal with abstruse subject matter, but many of his canny re-interpretations of mathematical laws depend on questionable means, such as rejiggering ""the definition that we choose to give to the = sign."" English majors who never understood why they were required to take math classes may enjoy Martinez's blend of humanism and philosophy, and number-people will certainly want to give this a look.
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