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A Tour of the Calculus

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  843 ratings  ·  70 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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unreadably frothy. author may have already died from severe case of terminal cuteness.
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
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
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
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
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
Some enjoyable prose, but mostly a cheap script writer attempting to wax mathematical without waxing intelligent.
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
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
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.
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.
Apr 11, 2013 Hotske added it
The purplest prose on the planet can't obscure the beauty this book reveals.
John G
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
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
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
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.
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
John P
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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
Purple maybe, but the last thing the world of mathematics needs is more dry men. Go, Berlinski, go!
I really got tired of the authors writing style of informality and wordy attempts at humor.
One of my favorite books. It made me think of Calculus in a different way.
Man, does this guy get annoying. Someone likes the sound of his own voice.
Good beginning, decent description, overall way too florid.
The things I do for Walters
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
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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 about David Berlinski...
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