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e: the Story of a Number

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  1,359 Ratings  ·  72 Reviews
The story of [pi] has been told many times, both in scholarly works and in popular books. But its close relative, the number e, has fared less well: despite the central role it plays in mathematics, its history has never before been written for a general audience. The present work fills this gap. Geared to the reader with only a modest background in mathematics, the book d ...more
Paperback, 248 pages
Published May 24th 1998 by Princeton University Press (first published January 1st 1993)
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Sanjay Gautam
Sep 10, 2015 Sanjay Gautam rated it it was amazing
In the first 100 pages itself the book has made me feel flabbergasted. I was expecting it to be only about the number 'e' but to my surprise it was all about how calculus came into existence and trust me you will be surprised how insightful it was. And from here he develops insights about the number 'e', which is I am still going through.
Bill Ward
Jul 13, 2012 Bill Ward rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Valerie Neer
Shelves: math, geeky-history
Everyone knows about π, the ratio 3.14159... the universal constant governing circles. The constant e is just as important if not more so, but never managed to break its way into popular culture because it's a little hard to understand just what makes it so special. This book makes a valiant effort to redress that shortcoming, by explaining the history of logarithms and calculus and how the last 400 years of mathematics developed, empowered largely by this mysterious number which, before the inv ...more
Jun 12, 2012 Jeffrey rated it really liked it
OK, so books on math, not going to become national best sellers by any stretch of the imagination. But any story in the field of math be it zero, 'e,' Phi, PI tells us more about that mystical, insightful language that can tell us so much about the why's and what's of our surroundings, as well as provide the more practical to suit our human needs. Math is interesting in the sense that it dictates to the mathematician not the mathematician to it to determine outcome. ie: in string theory, the mat ...more
Oct 29, 2009 Andy rated it it was ok
One hundred and thirty pages into Eli Maor’s history of Euler’s number (e), Maor experiences what can only be described as a "John Nash moment". Here he departs from his straight-laced account to describe, at length, an imagined conversation between J. S. Bach and Johann Bernoulli.

Bernoulli: That perfectly fits my love for orderly sequences of numbers.
Bach: But there is a problem. A scale constructed from these ratios consists of three basic intervals: 9:8, 10:9, and 16:15. The first two are nea
Feb 27, 2009 Tim rated it really liked it
Maor's account of the place of e, the base of the natural logarithms, in the history of mathematics provides a peek inside a mathematician's brain. More connected by mathematical ideas than by chronology or the usual social, cultural, economic, or political themes taken up by historians, Maor's book opened vistas in the calculus I did not see when I first ploddingly confronted derivatives and integrals some decades ago. He thoroughly covers the differing views of Newton and Leibniz as they devel ...more
Ben Pace
Dec 14, 2013 Ben Pace rated it it was ok
Shelves: math-popular
Enjoyable skim through the basics of logarithms, conic sections, calculus, and various other areas of mathematics relating to e. Not a textbook, so don't read this to learn those subjects, only to glance at them. The historical aspects add a narrative element, and of course the writing is far more pleasant than a textbook too. The background given, and also the original explanations, helped me to understand some of the concepts better, so I am glad that I read it. I will only be giving it a curs ...more
Jul 31, 2015 Andrew rated it really liked it
For the average layperson, the number e is something they may vaguely remember from an intermediate high school math class, but certainly isn’t something that is as familiar to them as π. For many of those people, the math in this book might be a bit intimidating. If it discourages them from picking up this book, that would be unfortunate, because the author does a pretty good job of explaining the history of the math that involves the use of e and its importance in solving a number of difficult ...more
Aakash Subhankar Bhowmick
Oct 26, 2013 Aakash Subhankar Bhowmick rated it it was amazing
The book takes you through an amazing journey of time in which you will be fascinated and humbled by the efforts which mathematician have put in to develop mathematics as it is today. The book is perfect to arouse interest in mathematics in your children, and to make them realize that more than its regular textbook form, mathematics is fun, inspiring and beautiful.
Jan 16, 2016 Kristina rated it liked it
Despite being described as accesible to readers with 'only a modest background in mathematics', the equations depicted are fairly complicated. Whether because the workings of logarithms with a slide rule is now obsolete, or because I haven't studied math for several years, I found the proofs and explanations difficult to get my head round.
However all this was interspersed with chapters on the major figures in mathematical history, and a sequential description of it's advancement, which was inter
Feb 23, 2014 Louis rated it it was amazing
If you can handle the math, this is a fun book about Napier's important number. Although it is not in the Kaplan method of math tomes, with a lot of cultural background and personality profiles of the key players, it does have some on the way to explaining the topics. Yes, there are problems to follow and formulas to understand. They don't particularly hang together in an ongoing story, but they are informative. This would be a good book for a high school senior who is good at math and might enj ...more
Feb 17, 2014 Rick rated it it was amazing
I wish new concepts were introduced this way by teachers. They typically race through a derivation and then spend time on what "really matters", i.e., being able to correctly answer test questions. Here we learn the mystery of why anybody would even derive such a strange number and then find it appearing all over the place. That's what I like about math anyway: something begins as a purely abstract discovery and then turns out to have more practical significance than anybody could have imagined.
Dan Cohen

A good book from Eli Maor. Nearly rated 4 stars but I'm a bit of a meanie. The book is a nice mixture of history / biography and mathematics. Rather more actual mathematics than is usual for this type of book but it's well presented and, of course, the reader can skip the bits of maths wherever s/he gets bored of them (I did, quite a lot!) The author writes really well and the text is a joy to read.

For my part I would have liked more of the history / biography stuff and a little less of the math
Dan Cohen
Jul 12, 2014 Dan Cohen rated it liked it
This book surprised me a bit by being more of an actual maths book (ie. not just a maths history / popularisation book) than I expected. Having said that, it stayed mainly on the right side of the line for me and I could skate over it without much impact in those places where the maths got a bit more technical than I wanted to bother with. And it was good to be reminded what actual maths is about in a way that wasn't too disconcerting. The maths in the book is followable to anyone with A-level s ...more
Moctar Bebaha
May 24, 2016 Moctar Bebaha rated it it was amazing
This books is certainly one of the best books on the history of Math, Mathematicians, and numbers.
Although from the title of the book it seems that the book only concerns exponentials and logarithms, the fact is the author takes you from the first attempts of humans to understand numbers and their nature, to the discovery of irrational numbers and, later on, to transcendental numbers, the creation of imaginary numbers and the struggle to "make peace" with them. The author beautifully introduces
Maurizio Codogno
Il pi greco lo conoscono tutti o quasi; ma non è il solo numero "molto interessante" per i matematici. Secondo a ben poca distanza c'è infatti il numero e, che vale circa 2,718 e appare anch'esso nei punti più diversi della matematica; dal calcolo dell'area sotto un'iperbole a quello degli interessi composti, dai logaritmi alle funzioni trigonometriche. Nella sua bella collana a basso prezzo che recupera varie opere di storia della matematica, la Princeton University Press ha recuperato questo t ...more
Maurizio Codogno
Il pi greco lo conoscono tutti o quasi; ma non è il solo numero "molto interessante" per i matematici. Secondo a ben poca distanza c'è infatti il numero e, che vale circa 2,718 e appare anch'esso nei punti più diversi della matematica; dal calcolo dell'area sotto un'iperbole a quello degli interessi composti, dai logaritmi alle funzioni trigonometriche. Nella sua bella collana a basso prezzo che recupera varie opere di storia della matematica, la Princeton University Press ha recuperato questo t ...more
Feb 28, 2012 melydia rated it it was ok
Like its more famous cousin pi, e is an irrational number that shows up in unexpected places all over mathematics. It also has a much more recent history, not appearing on the scene until the 16th century. My favorite parts of this book were the historical anecdotes such as the competitive Bernoullis and the Nerwton-Leibniz cross-Channel calculus feud. Unfortunately, this math history text is much heavier on the math than the history, including detailed descriptions of limits, derivatives, integ ...more
Jul 29, 2008 Vernon rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: any and all geeks
I recently gave a speech in my Toastmasters club titled "The Power of e." I have always had a little place in my heart for this irrational, transcendental number. This speech gave me the chance to talk about the origins of e and where we can find evidence of it in our lives. After the speech, one of the club members told me about this book. I checked it out and really quite enjoyed reading it.

It is not a really light read, but it is easy enough for anyone who has studied calculus to understand.
Cynthia Karl
Sep 29, 2015 Cynthia Karl rated it really liked it
This is not just about "e"; it leads the reader through a lot of interesting math history. The author says that the math in the book is not complicated and can be understood by anyone with a modest knowledge of math. Well, forget that if you are mathematically challenged as I am. But it is easy to skip/skim the math parts that are above your level and still find the book fascinating.
Brent Neal
Mar 22, 2014 Brent Neal rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Maor's treatise on the history of the Naperian base is an simple, interesting read beginning with a short biography of Napier himself. As is customary with any history of science or math of that time, Maor provides the reader with an obligatory look into the infamous conflict between Newton and Leibniz. While the history itself was not terribly new to me, my attention and delight was found in Maor's very instructive sidebars demonstrating applications, including the logarithmic spiral in art and ...more
Dec 26, 2015 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have never had so much fun reading about math. Well written and understandable to those without having to be a PhD in mathematics. It is challenging at times, however. I highly recommend this one!
May 25, 2014 Alan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice account of the history of e (via logarithms, calculus, compound interest and hyperbolic function.) Fairly easy read - the maths is mostly high school level.
Michal Paszkiewicz
Very easy to read, but a great refresher of trigonometry and calculus. Packed with lots of fun facts, this is very enjoyable and a must read for anyone interested in the history of maths.
Bradley Gram-hansen
Dec 12, 2014 Bradley Gram-hansen rated it really liked it
Really enjoyable book, no mathematical knowledge needed. It is an interesting read in to the history of an amazing function.
Biz Strach
Apr 19, 2014 Biz Strach rated it liked it
I wish it had more about the number e and it's modern uses, but it gives a great overview of how e was discovered.
Mar 17, 2016 Dave rated it really liked it
Explains so much that I've forgotten and even more that I never knew. Great book, thanks Kevin!
Jul 23, 2009 Ringthebells rated it liked it
This one didn't really work for me. It wasn't really readable as a story -- the math was too dense, the narrative too thin. On the other hand, there wasn't much math that I didn't already know from teaching first-year calculus a bunch of times.

Still, it was interesting reading Maor's summary of the whole Newton/Liebniz kerfuffle (of course I knew there had been one, but I'd never read about it in detail before). And it was neat seeing how Newton's notation worked. Plus, the stuff about the inven
Mark Schomburg
Dec 25, 2014 Mark Schomburg rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, mathematics
It's a great telling of mathematical history, and I wish this kind of material were more known in undergraduate calculus circles - just to set a context for what is otherwise arcane formulation without end. We learn here the tale of the "calculus" between Newton and Leibniz, and much, much more in terms of what developments set the stage for e to appear. The text does not shy away from using mathematical language and formulas which would be expected of a student of this subject. Highly recommend ...more
Feb 07, 2013 Nick rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, math-science
In this book we learn about e, a number closely connected to Calculus. In order to understand e, you must understand Calculus. The author explains the subject in the booka at various points.
I last Calculus class I had was in June of last year. Although it was a fair review for some topics, I couldn't say I understood everything explained or learned anything new. For an author trying to each a standard audience I don't think he did well.
I did find the historical sections of the book interesting.
Mirek Kukla
Jan 18, 2011 Mirek Kukla rated it really liked it
Shelves: math-logic
A impressively thorough discussion of the role of 'e' in mathematics. I liked that the content was a bit more mathematically-grounded than most pop-math books, without ever getting dense. The variety of content is pretty remarkable. My only complaint was that some of the content relates to 'e' in only a roundabout manner and could have been done away with (for instance, there's a bit too much emphasis on the rational for and history of calculus).
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