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A Tour of the Calculus

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  909 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
In its largest aspect, the calculus functions as a celestial measuring tape, able to order the infinite expanse of the universe. Time and space are given names, points, and limits; seemingly intractable problems of motion, growth, and form are reduced to answerable questions. Calculus was humanity's first attempt to represent the world and perhaps its greatest meditation o ...more
Hardcover, 331 pages
Published January 13th 1996 by Pantheon Books (first published 1995)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,134)
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Tom
Dec 15, 2008 Tom rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
unreadably frothy. author may have already died from severe case of terminal cuteness.
Rich
Feb 19, 2009 Rich rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mathematics
Florid, ostentatious, and inexcusably pretentious.
Berlinski's writing does more to obfuscate than clarify, and wearies rather than enlightens the reader. Understanding mathematics requires selectivity and focus. Berlinski demonstrates that writing about it requires neither. Perhaps the most worthless, overwrought book I've ever suffered through.
James Watson
Jun 28, 2015 James Watson rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
In writing "A Tour of the Calculus", there are three things that David Berlinski would like you to know, in order:

1. David Berlinski has read more books than you.
2. David Berlinski is well regarded among mathematicians.
3. The motivations and concepts that support calculus as a foundational achievement of modern thought.

Let me offer this praise: Berlinski faithfully and artfully expresses what almost every math teacher misses; The motivation for creating calculus was to understand a world of vary
...more
Alex Stockdale
Ugh. Almost finished, but what a slog. Picked this book up in an airport bookstore a few years ago (obviously pre-Kindle), and finally decided I should read it or get rid of it. The subject matter is, of course, fascinating. Berlinski's writing, however, seens almost guaranteed to discourage anyone from reading the book (well, maybe graduate-level humanities students would appreciate it – hard to say, since I am not). I have persevered because the historical context that Berlinski provides *is* ...more
mpacer
Mar 15, 2014 mpacer rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I could not finish reading this. I tried, I really tried. But the author not only included incomplete and seemingly inaccurate maths, he in no way explained anything clearly, and he didn't do so in what I found to be an entertaining manner. I even got most of his references which would be difficult for others with less of a background in the history of mathematics, but even those I didn't enjoy but internally groaned.

I know a good deal of the underpinnings of calculus, and while yes, I may now k
...more
Valerie
Sep 17, 2008 Valerie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: math, cypresslibrary
This is a great addition to any study of the calculus. I used it as part of the precalc class one year, and all the students asked to keep their copies. (Granted, it was a small class.)
Jesse Broussard
Apr 09, 2008 Jesse Broussard rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: utter-tripe
Some enjoyable prose, but mostly a cheap script writer attempting to wax mathematical without waxing intelligent.
John G
Apr 09, 2015 John G rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: calculation
It has been awhile since I read this. I remember clearly the fine explanations of the origin of the limit in differential calculus. This is very important because it represents a lot of modern mathematical weakness wherein formula are not possible and instead we use approximation and logical induction.

As you probably discovered in school, even simple equations with two unknowns can be difficult. And at a higher level of difficulty, 5th degree polynomials can't be solved by anyone. Today the lim
...more
Upom
Sep 21, 2010 Upom rated it liked it
In the rushed use of calculus in physics, chemistry, biology, economics, and other subjects, it's easy to forget what an intellectual achievement it really is. "Tour of the Calculus" tries to do something which no other popular math text I've ever read has attempted: it brings poetry to mathematics. Looking both at the obscure characters who made the subject possible, as well as the various definitions, postulates, and theorems that make up the calculus, the book gives a foundational and rather ...more
GS Nathan
Nov 20, 2011 GS Nathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, my-library
David Berlinski starts the book saying that he would like to feel that that the reader says, "Yes, that's it, now I understand", when he or she finishes reading the book. And, sir, atleast this particular reader can report that you have succeeded.


Calculus and the concepts behind it have always been the stuff that even people formally educated in its methods find difficult to fully comprehend or explain. Yes, it works. Yes, it is very useful to solve real life issues. But some parts make sense wh
...more
Jared
Jan 10, 2012 Jared rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I've always loved math, but when I took calculus in high school it kind of went over my head, which is unusual. My teachers taught the technical skills to work out calculus problems, but I never learned what was really happening behind the derivatives and integrals; I never learned about instantaneous rates of change or the true relationships between a function, its derivatives, and its integrals.

This book changed that completely. It showed me, in good prose, the underlying theories and concepts
...more
Douglas Weathers
Dec 12, 2009 Douglas Weathers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: math, nonfiction
This book wants to be the calculus in layman's terms, but Berlinski's prose is more complicated than a textbook would be. Even though this isn't bad, I feel like it makes the book more difficult to get through than it needs to be. As complicated as his flowery, ornate writing is, Berlinski still writes well, and offers an interesting look at beginner's calculus.
Joshua
This book is one of the single most incredible books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Berlinski really takes his time in exploring the Calculus, providing insight into it's history and applications as he does so. A phenomenal read: always interesting, rarely difficult, never boring.
Jason
Feb 06, 2016 Jason rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mathematics
I made it through about half of the book before finally stopping -- not because of Berlinksi's prose, but because of my own inability to grasp the mathematics involved.

This is the second book of Berlinski's books that I have read. His style, I sense, will not appeal to everyone. His prose can approach the florid at times, and his more literary approach to investigating and explaining mathematics may not sit well with some. Still, there is something refreshing in reading a book on calculus that
...more
Hotske
The purplest prose on the planet can't obscure the beauty this book reveals.
Richard
This is a sweetly quirky and slightly poetic examination of mathematics. Because of the title, I suppose it gets all the way to calculus, but I didn't make it that far.

That annoys me, because I've long regretted not learning my math better. I was very good at math in my youth—making it to calculus as a sophomore in high school. Unfortunately for my progress beyond that point, I naturally think like an engineer and quickly get frustrated at what seem (to me) to be purely academic abstractions. If
...more
Mary Nguyen
The book itself is a pretty enjoyable read with the occasional humor.

I would really recommend the book for people who are interested in knowing the history behind calculus, but I don't think it's a great read for people that already KNOW calculus. For example I thought it was a bit irritating towards the integral section when he discusses simple integrals. He tends to only write "integral of f(x)" rather than "integral of f(x) times dx)" or whatever variable he happens to use. While that isn't q
...more
Jeff Wilson
Oct 18, 2014 Jeff Wilson rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
awful...just awful. Great idea for a book, written by a schmuck. If you have a math background and find yourself interested in buying this book, DON'T DO IT. The man cannot write his way out of a wet paper bag. This book sucks. Save yourself the $16 or better yet, use it to buy a beer. I'm going to take this book and give it as a Christmas present to someone I don't like.
Sandeep
Dec 28, 2013 Sandeep rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It's difficult to write a whole big book and remain uninteresting in almost every page. It's almost like the author decided to write a book and then started wondering whether he should write one about skies and daisies and greenery, or about calculus. And, confused that he was, he wrote a book about neither.

Stripped of all the rubbish which is passed off as "poetry", the book would have been 1/4 th its length, am article, which had a better place in the Saturday edition of a tabloid - so publis
...more
Luke
It's been way too long since I've read the book to give a rating but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's one part history and one part primer on Calculus. Written for non-specialists and readers, this is a great book for grasping the essential concepts of calculus and its importance without the hard mechanics of the math.
John P
Mar 22, 2015 John P rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is certainly not for everyone. I majored in math so for me it was natural to buy this book. I did not care for the style of writing but the content was good. I believe the author was trying to explain the abstract subject in simple terms but got caught up in his own ego and missed the mark.
Peter
Dec 27, 2014 Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These are the buttresses of the Calculus in clear prose. Should have been required reading before educational institutes tried to slam a bunch of equations and formulas into my memory banks. Is it not amazing that one can perform Calculus while not fully comprehending it?
Chris
Apr 22, 2014 Chris rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a difficult read for me. Although this is supposed to be a book about mathematics, it's very "literary". For example, it's not uncommon to read a single sentence that takes up half a page.

On the plus side, the author does a decent job explaining irrational numbers.
brotagonist
Dec 31, 2014 brotagonist rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I had hoped to refresh my knowledge of calculus, but this book bored me to tears. It wasn't the math: I've always enjoyed it. I plodded through the first few chapters, but I couldn't take the long-winded and inane stories that comprise about two-thirds of the text.
Eric
May 06, 2015 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my favorite books. Entertaining and full of character, this book will capture your imagination and inspire you to delve deeper into the world of the calculus.
Katie Belle
This book was rather disappointing to me on the subject of calculus. As a current student of calculus, I was looking for an alternative and more in depth approach to the basic principles of calculus and its history. Instead, I felt as though I had been drug through superfluous antecedents and dismal attempts at staying 'hip' or 'readable'. While some brief paragraphs were indeed very helpful at looking at calculus from a different perspective, I rather think my time overall would have been bette ...more
Robert Kinosian
Nov 13, 2012 Robert Kinosian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves:
This book is excellent so far. It explores calculus from a philosophical, poetic, and historical viewpoint in addition to the more traditional mechanical approach. And yes, I said poetic: this book about math is filled with poetry, an ode to calculus from cover to cover. It's worth reading just to see how that is possible.

It starts from the very basic (defining a point, a line, numbers) and of course leads up to plenty of in-depth calculus discussion/philosophizing. It's from 1995, I found it in
...more
Lucas Johnson
Written in a strange, but seductive manner. If you can wrap your brain around the flowery rhetoric, there are some good points raised. Still, not a very good introduction to the concepts of calculus.
Christopher
Purple maybe, but the last thing the world of mathematics needs is more dry men. Go, Berlinski, go!
Esther
Jun 03, 2014 Esther rated it liked it
I really got tired of the authors writing style of informality and wordy attempts at humor.
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David Berlinski is a senior fellow in the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

Recent articles by Berlinski have been prominently featured in Commentary, Forbes ASAP, and the Boston Review. Two of his articles, “On the Origins of the Mind” (November 2004) and “What Brings a World into Being” (March 2001), have been anthologized in The Best American Science Writing 2005, edited by A
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