Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Journey through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics” as Want to Read:
Journey through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Journey through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  1,236 ratings  ·  70 reviews
Like masterpieces of art, music, and literature, great mathematical theorems are creative milestones, works of genius destined to last forever. Now William Dunham gives them the attention they deserve. Dunham places each theorem within its historical context and explores the very human and often turbulent life of the creator — from Archimedes, the absentminded theoretician ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 1st 1991 by Penguin Books (first published 1990)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Journey through Genius, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Journey through Genius

Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas R. HofstadterFermat's Enigma by Simon SinghFlatland by Edwin A. AbbottThe Code Book by Simon SinghZero by Charles Seife
Best Books About Mathematics
6th out of 201 books — 312 voters
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootThe Disappearing Spoon by Sam KeanGuns, Germs and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
History of Science
51st out of 222 books — 145 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Joao Vaz
What a merry walkthrough over the work of History’s mathematical geniuses!, faith in Humanity: Restored!

And in Bertrand Russels's words: Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty—a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.
James Swenson
The title is a fair description: Dunham presents highlights from math history as great works of art. He carries this analogy through the book consistently, for example identifying Georg Cantor (-1918) as the mathematical parallel of his contemporary Vincent van Gogh.

Dunham has done an excellent job of selecting exemplary theorems that can be explained to an interested reader having no special mathematical training, that are associated with the most greatest mathematicians of all time, and that i
This was a class book for a 'History of Math' course I took during my undergrad and it remains one of the few books from that era in my life that I actually return to now and then... Geeky, sure. Dorky, definitely, but this book provides a fascinating account of how advances in mathematics follows progress in civilization and vice versa.

From everybody's favorite theorem (the Pythagorean theorem that is) to the dreaded nightmare-inducing calculus (thank you, Sir Isaac Newton!) and beyond this li
Bryan Higgs
The preface to this book contains the following explanation, which I think suffices to explain its reason for being:

"For disciplines as diverse as literature, music, and art, there is a tradition of examining masterpieces -- the "great novels", the "great symphonies", the "great paintings" -- as the fittest and most illuminating objects of study. Books are written and courses are taught on precisely these topics in order to acquaint us with some of the creative milestones of the discipline and w
Martin Cohen
The math history presented is very good. The mathematical exposition is uneven. Some of it is good and some not so good.

The chapter I had the most difficulty with was the one on Heron's formula. Theorems are presented without any indicator of where they are headed. Dunham keeps promising that the formula will eventually be derived, but I gave up beforehand.

The other chapter I would criticize is the one on Euler's number theory, but for different reasons. In developing Fermat's Little Theorem,
At times the proofs can be a little hard to follow, but the book was definitely written for the layman with some calculus background. However, since the book covers such diverse mathematical topics, it is difficult to fully appreciate every theorem. The author does try to present every theorem in its historical context and give background on the great minds of the discoverers.

The most striking point of the entire book to me was how miserable the vast majority of the featured mathematicians lives
I finally finished this book! It's been a long time coming. I've owned it for almost ten years. I finally picked it up to read a few months ago. I don't know why I waited so long. It's a real gem. The main reason it took me so long to get through is the format. You can read it a chapter at a time, as you have time, and read other books in between, etc, and it really doesn't matter. I'd read a chapter, then read other books, then read another chapter, etc. Each chapter is about one of the more im ...more
Loved it. Great exposition of some of the best ideas in the history of mathematics. I've seen some other books like this, but this is the first one that really explains the way the Greeks did their mathematics. I've seen Euclid's proof of the Pythagorean Theorem before, but this is the first time it really made sense, and the first time I understood why Euclid had to prove it that way: he had no concept of what we would call algebra. For him a square was just that, and the theorem isn't a^2 + b^ ...more
Biz Strach
In Journey through Genius, William Dunham introduced some of the most influential mathematicians in history alongside explanations for one or two of their most profound discoveries in math. Journey through Genius gives a historical context for the mathematicians and their discoveries, and tries to convince the reader of the greatness of the discovery—the worthiness, as it may be, for why that piece of mathematical history has made it into this book. While the content provided in Journey through ...more
If you are reading this for general interest, it is a nice survey of the history of mathematics with each of the 12 chapters highlighting a theorem of particular importance. The history of mathematics between these "Great Theorems" is covered in the conclusion of the chapter or the introduction to the next. Each chapter also has an epilogue exploring some topic or historical figure related to the subject of the chapter.

I use this book when I teach History of Mathematics. It is written for a gen
Kevin Woram
I loved this book! I have re-read it several times. I have a fascination with geniuses (or genii, for you Latin snobs) and the wonderful legacies they leave to the rest of us mere mortals. Whether their field of interest was music, science, math, or literature, I find great inspiration in hearing their life stories and studying their works.

This book satisfied me on both counts. The biographical information about each mathematician enlightened me about their historical context and their humanity
Miroslav Krajnak
This is my review on Amazon dated January 24, 2012:

I can hardly imagine one running out of words of praise for this book. What a treat! I would read it on the bus to and from work (5-odd years since graduating in pure mathematics I became nostalgic), making my 25-minute ride (one way) pass in no time...

To write on any subject, one obviously needs the knowledge of it. However, to write a MASTERPIECE (about masterpieces in the chosen field), I think, requires two more ingredients: passion for the
Overall, I liked the book but there were a few things that detracted from the experience. It gives a lot of historical context from a broad perspective, and does a great job of foreshadowing (this mathematician shows up later in chapter 6, etc.) and referencing back to prior material. The author even draws comparisons and points out parallels between the evolution of art and mathematics. I found the math easy to follow and engaging.

Now for the downsides:
First, this book claims to be geared at so
Viaje a través de los genios es un viaje apasionante por la historia de las matemáticas y de los matemáticos. William Dunham expone en 12 capítulos, 12 grandes teoremas matemáticos. Lo hace explicando las vidas de los matemáticos que los pensaron y el momento de la historia en el que lo hicieron. Con gran entusiasmo y admiración hacia estos genios. Dunham tiene el acierto de incluir las demostraciones de estos teoremas, a la vez que lo hace de manera clara y comprensible. No sólo explica la hist ...more
Maurizio Codogno
Di storie della matematica ce ne sono davvero tante. Ma questa è un po' particolare. Dunham ha pensato infatti di strutturarla a partire dai grandi matematici della storia e soprattutto a partire da alcuni dei loro risultati più famosi. Iniziamo così dalla quadratura della lunula da parte di Ippocrate di Chio per arrivare a Cantor e ai suoi numeri transfiniti. I teoremi sono però solo la parte centrale dei capitoli, che parlano anche della vita del loro dimostratore e del contesto sia storico ch ...more
Dunham does the field of mathematics a great service in this concise and entertaining history of the subject. Journey through Genius was one of the quickest reads I've ever had thanks to Dunham's intelligent-but-fun writing style. He does here what every math course I've ever taken failed to do: He provides the interested student with some context for the great theorems which we encounter over the years, from the times and cultures in which they were discovered to the characters who discovered t ...more
I love the concept of this book, and I very much enjoyed the theorems included in it. It's given me an appreciation for what Math is really about--which is no insignificant feat.

On the other hand, I have to admit that it wasn't quite watered-down enough for me. There were plenty of places where I lost the thread of what was going on. Mostly, this happened when the author explained a concept in words (usually in a completely comprehensible way), and then said something like "which, of course, gi
Alan Clark
This is one of my favourite books of all time. Although I have a degree in Mathematics I learned a lot from it, although you need no more than a rudimentary knowledge of mathematics to understand it (plus a fair amount of concentration).

The book is worth the price even if you only read the amazing geometric proof of Heron's formula. Heron seems to wander all over the place making apparently pointless constructions, but then brings everything together and suddenly pulls the rabbit out of the hat,
A fantastic overview of math history. I would have liked to set the math in context with the history of the times, but there was just enough of that to keep me happy. I found several short easy projects that I could do with my students, a wealth of math quotes to make a nerd swoon, and a couple of interesting discussions. For people afraid of math, I assure you, you can read the opening part of each chapter, get a sense for the historical context and significance and than skip on. The math has b ...more
If you like math, this book is fantastic. Not only does it cover some of the most famous mathematicians biographies, but it provides some of the very clever and elegant proofs of intractable problems of their times. Considering the level of math known at the time of some of these great people, their creativity and genius shines through. Excellent book for anyone mildly curious about mathematics in general.
This was a good book, but I wasn't the target audience---it was aimed at a more lay audience. He wanted to present the history of mathematics with major theorems as touchstones. He (sort of, mostly) proved the theorems, put them in context, and discussed what followed. But he was hamstrung by needing to keep to theorems that he could prove with HS algebra.

Still, some cool stuff. Some very clever ways of proving the convergence of the harmonic series. And I hadn't seen Archimedes' proof that the
Feb 06, 2008 Adrian rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People
I think this book is a masterpiece! W. Dunham describes the history of mathematics by going over some of the most remarkable theorems and ideas along with their inventors and proofs. The book begins on Hippocrates' quadrature of the lune and ends on Cantor's infinite sets and one may just stand and wonder at the genius and creativity of people described in the book. The book is fun to read as it includes aspects satisfiable to all kind of readers and knowledge seekers. It talks about theorems, e ...more
I took a course at Portland State University from this man and the text was his book.
A brief biography, then a telling of the theorem or formula that made the mathematician great.
This book is super accessible. One can read it for the interesting bios without needing to read the math and still one would get a lot out of this book.
This is a great book. The idea of presenting important mathematical results in a historical context is certainly not new, but Dunham's execution is notable. The history he includes is engaging and fits together into an overall narrative. His presentation of the math was equally well selected, as his choice of theorems allowed him to explore everything in an elementary manner. Those results he does offer without proof, which for the most part occur in the historical sections, are stated simply an ...more
Truly fascinating book. I never knew that a book about geometry could ever be so clear and addictive. I am a different conversationalist since I've read this book. amazing. would recommend.
Rico Cordova
Journey through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics

This book really has a niche audience. Anyone who is a math or math-history enthusiast will love this book. There are mathematical concepts here that are not "toned down" but nothing extreme. The average reader would probably struggle through this book but the average math enthusiast wouldn't have any trouble.

Did I enjoy this book? Yes.

Would I recommend it? Only to someone familiar with calculus level math or higher.
Jan 16, 2014 Gregory rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Dr. Goodsell
I read this book for my History of Math class. I really enjoyed. I thought it a great introduction to many mathematicians, to some beautiful mathematics, and very accessible even if you are steeped in math all the time. I would highly recommend this book to someone wanting to learn history or about math.
John Roberson
This is a great survey of some very big events in mathematics, complete with interesting biographical details and context of the historical significance of these events. Dunham's explanations should be fairly understandable for those without much formal education in mathematics, but I expect they will be too difficult or extensive now and then for a popular audience. On occasion he gets a bit heavy-handed with his own ideology, distracting from the central purpose of unfolding mathematical histo ...more
In process, of course. Had to put the book on pause for a bit.

I love the way he gives humorous historical background. I graduated in Mathematics Education, and while I can understand everything, sometimes there are proofs that take a little extra brain power. I recently skipped over the bit about the quadrature of lune because I've never heard of it before, and therefore reading through all the proofs seemed a bit useless to me. Also great--it's a good way to have a mathematical read that doesn'
Jun 02, 2011 Andrew rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: math
A well-balanced book about the better part of math (history.) I thought it did well to bring out the more interesting or relevant facts about the mathematicians in mind, and gave pretty simple explanations for what they did to contribute to the field. Ample attention was paid to the big names. The only thing that I would've liked better is if more modern mathematicians were mentioned. Alliteration!

History through genius and no Riemann? Well, I guess we can't always have everything. ;)
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
calculus 1 17 Jun 07, 2007 04:38AM  
  • Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics
  • What Is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods
  • Proofs from THE BOOK
  • e: the Story of a Number
  • The Princeton Companion to Mathematics
  • An Imaginary Tale: The Story of the Square Root of Minus One
  • The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics
  • Men of Mathematics
  • The Music of the Primes: Searching to Solve the Greatest Mystery in Mathematics
  • The Mathematical Experience
  • A Mathematician's Lament: How School Cheats Us Out of Our Most Fascinating and Imaginative Art Form
  • Euler's Gem: The Polyhedron Formula and the Birth of Topology
  • Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers
  • Letters to a Young Mathematician
  • Proofs and Refutations: The Logic of Mathematical Discovery
  • Geometry and the Imagination
  • How to Prove It: A Structured Approach
  • How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method
The Mathematical Universe: An Alphabetical Journey Through the Great Proofs, Problems, and Personalities Euler: The Master of Us All (Dolciani Mathematical Expositions, No 22) The Calculus Gallery: Masterpieces from Newton to Lebesgue The Genius of Euler: Reflections on His Life and Work Mathematik Von A-Z

Share This Book