Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World

Ian Stewart. Basic, $24.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-465-02973-0
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Stewart (Game, Set, and Math) shares his enthusiasm as well as his knowledge in this tour of ground-breaking equations and the research they supported. “Equations are the lifeblood of mathematics, science, and technology,” allowing scientists, engineers, and even economists to quantify ideas and concepts. Stewart, Warwick University emeritus professor of mathematics, proceeds chronologically, beginning with Pythagoras’ theorem. He opens each chapter with an equation, then summarizes its importance and the technological developments it brought about. Many of the equations are famous, from Maxwell’s equations unifying electricity and magnetism, and of course Einstein’s “E=mc²”, to Schrödinger’s equation and its unhappy cat. Some are broader mathematical concepts rather than equations, from logarithms and calculus to chaos theory. Two surprising inclusions are the math behind information theory, created by Claude Shannon, and the infamous Black-Scholes equation—aka the “Midas” formula, which describes how the price of a stock derivative changes over time (which he implicates in the current financial crisis). Stewart assembles an entertaining and illuminating collection of curious facts and histories suitable for random dipping-in or reading straight through. Agent: George Lucas, Inkwell Management. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/16/2012
Release date: 03/01/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
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