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A Tour of the Calculus
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A Tour of the Calculus

3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  710 ratings  ·  60 reviews
Were it not for the calculus, mathematicians would have no way to describe the acceleration of a motorcycle or the effect of gravity on thrown balls and distant planets, or to prove that a man could cross a room and eventually touch the opposite wall. Just how calculus makes these things possible and in doing so finds a correspondence between real numbers and the real worl ...more
Paperback, 331 pages
Published January 28th 1997 by Vintage (first published 1995)
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Community Reviews

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Tom
unreadably frothy. author may have already died from severe case of terminal cuteness.
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
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
Rich
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.
Valerie
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.)
Upom
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
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
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
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.
Lita
Apr 11, 2013 Lita added it
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
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
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
Chris
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.
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
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
Esther
I really got tired of the authors writing style of informality and wordy attempts at humor.
Gary
One of my favorite books. It made me think of Calculus in a different way.
Ryan
Finally, a book that speaks to the humanity of mathematics. 'What humanity?' you might ask. A fair question, but a bit knee-jerk you must admit. Berlinski lays out beautifully just how amazing it is that 'THE' calculus was achieved at all. It is the first TRUE insight that is beyond the mere measurement of nature - it can help you PREDICT nature. And thus applied mathematics and physics are born in one fell swoop.

The writing style is great. The metaphors and historical context are on point. I hi
...more
Arkendu Majumder
May 09, 2014 Arkendu Majumder marked it as to-read
this is very good.
Carlos Burga
This book was quite a throwback to when I was taking calculus. Berlinski discusses all those theorems that are fed to new calculus students with the difference that he actually makes sense out of them. Although he, as any good mathematician, insists on presenting the proofs for every theorem, his discussion of the stories, both of the authors and the times, behind each of them more than make up for the proofs.
Whoof
I learned things I didn't know about calculus, but I can't say the book helped me understand it more. Prose is overly purple a lot of the time. The math lost me towards the end. At least Berlinski is very passionate about numbers and Cartesian plots
Andrew
Engagingly written, this book strolls though the need for natural, and irrational numbers, and manages to describe in words very abstract calculus concepts usually put across in equations. Great for those who want to break down their fear of higher math, this book does not require you to have been a wiz at elementary mathmatics; the concepts and skills needed are completely different.
Camille
I read this book many years ago, right as I was finishing graduate school. I really enjoyed reading about the people who had developed calculus and those who made it rigorous. Berlinski is very entertaining, and I remember laughing aloud several times while reading it. (Once while giving a Calculus exam--my students did NOT appreciate my laughter during their torture!)
Frank Roberts
I chose this because I enjoy Berlinski's style, and I thought that perhaps he could help me understand the calculus, an understanding that absolutely eluded me in 12th Grade. Thus far, Berlinski's style continues to amuse and enlighten, but as we move beyond the concepts of the function and the limit into the deeper weeds, my brain again is refusing to grasp.
marie monroe
this, like the boy in freshman year, helps explain the beauty of math. i like hearing it read aloud so my boyfriend will give me a bit from time to time. it's no moby dick, but it works to open the door for me so i can peek into the esoteric language of math. the actual language of the book is pretty good. that helps.
David
This book is really interesting, particularly if you don't remember that much Calculus. I actually read it as I was taking my first Calc class. The writing is poetic, almost pretentious, but it makes for a fun read even for non-techies. The imagery in particular is pretty fun to read.
David Grimaud
For the lay person who loves math, this is a great book. You don't have to be a math major or have a Ph.D. to absorb it. There is some thinking involved, but you probably wouldn't be reading this book if you weren't a thinker. I wish I had read a book like this before my calculus days.
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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
...more
More about David Berlinski...
The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions Infinite Ascent: A Short History of Mathematics (Modern Library Chronicles) The Advent of the Algorithm: The 300-Year Journey from an Idea to the Computer Newton's Gift: How Sir Isaac Newton Unlocked the System of the World One, Two, Three: Absolutely Elementary Mathematics

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