THE GOLDEN RATIO: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number

Mario Livio, Author . Broadway $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7679-0815-3

Most readers will have at least dim memories from geometry class of the irrational number pi. Theoretical astrophysicist Livio gives pi's overlooked cousin phi its due with this lively account, the first on the subject written for the layperson. Phi is the golden ratio of antiquity (1.6180339887), a never-ending number so lauded for its harmonious qualities that in the 16th century it was dubbed the divine proportion. It is related to phenomena as diverse as the petal arrangements of roses, the breeding patterns of rabbits and the shape of our galaxy. Phi is also claimed to have been crucial in the design of the Great Pyramids, the composition of the Mona Lisa and the construction of Stradivarius violins. Livio (The Accelerating Universe) carefully investigates these and other claims and does not hesitate to debunk myths perpetuated by overzealous enthusiasts he calls "Golden Numberists." This is an engaging history of mathematics as well, addressing such perennial questions as the geometric basis of aesthetic pleasure and the nature of mathematical objects. Useful diagrams and handsome illustrations of works under discussion are amply provided. Livio is gifted with an accessible, entertaining style: one typical chapter bounds within five pages from an extended discourse on prime numbers to a clever Oscar Wilde quote about beauty to an amusing anecdote about Samuel Beckett and finally to an eminently clear explanation of Gödel's incompleteness theorem. With a guide to the history of ideas as impassioned as Livio, even the math-phobic can experience the shock and pleasure of scientific discovery. This thoroughly enjoyable work vividly demonstrates to the general reader that, as Galileo put it, the universe is, indeed, written in the language of mathematics. (Oct. 29)

Reviewed on: 09/16/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
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Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-0-307-48552-6
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-7679-0816-0
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-00467-2
MP3 CD - 978-1-4692-8609-9
Compact Disc - 978-1-4692-8610-5
Compact Disc - 978-1-4692-8607-5
MP3 CD - 978-1-4692-8611-2
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