The Thread: A Mathematical Yarn

Philip J. Davis, Author, Marguerite Dorian, Illustrator Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P $10.95 (124p) ISBN 978-0-15-690140-6
``Find a thread and follow it,'' urges Davis ( Thomas Gray, Philosopher Cat ), professor of applied mathematics at Brown, at the outset of these self-indulgent, often coy divagations inspired by an academic quibble about the transliteration of the name of a 19th-century Russian mathematician. Like an encyclopedist run wild, Davis leaps by the merest of associations from one bit of mathematical history to another, and from these into an apparently infinite plane of intellectual and cultural history: 10th-century nun Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, Sikkimese shamans, Coptic proper nouns all surface. The information is fairly interesting, at times startling. The book itself, however, falls flat. Its theses--that historical events progress only circuitously; that ``not the truth, but the search for the truth; the process, the method, that is what matters''--are far from new, and Davis's self-referential ramblings neither electrify his stores of fact nor stimulate the reader. Here is a prodigious mind playing solitaire. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 10/01/1989
Release date: 10/01/1989
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