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# A History of π

The history of pi, says the author, though a small part of the history of mathematics, is nevertheless a mirror of the history of man. Petr Beckmann holds up this mirror, giving the background of the times when pi made progress -- and also when it did not, because science was being stifled by militarism or religious fanaticism.

Paperback, 208 pages

Published
July 15th 1976
by St. Martin's Griffin
(first published January 1st 1970)

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## Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)

What the world needs now are more opinionated and bellicose mathematicians, and I’m itching to pumme ...more

As a history of pi, it kind of doesn't really work for a couple of reasons. First of all, its not really a history of pi. Its more like a history of mathematics in general. But even there, its far too anecdotal to serve as any real history lesson. Beckmann jumps and skips from one era to another giving you the lowdown on a random sampling ...more

For reasons that have never been understood, π has received far more attention than all of the other constants. Even though other numbers, such as e, the base of the natural logarithms, are ju ...more

However, when the first few examples he gives of how the ancients found their values for pi are rendered into oh-so-simple differential calc ...more

Although a little outdated in the last ...more

Mar 23, 2017
Neelima Yeddanapudi
is currently reading it
·
review of another edition

Shelves:
occasion-inspired

Reading for pi day.

I stumbled across it in the process of looking for Beckmann's monograph "The Scattering of Electromagnetic Waves from Rough Surfaces" for some E/M research I was involved with. It's a great treatise, but that's beside the point. Next to it on the shelf was "A History of Pi."

Pi itself is an interesting subject, but Beckmann is only hijacking the fundamental constant to tell the broader story of the history of mathematics. Each milestone, ea ...more

...moreIn 1486, Torquemada sentenced the Spanish mathematician Valmes to be burned at the stake because Valmes had claimed to have found the solution of the quartic equation. It was the will of God, maintained the Grand Inquisitor of the Holy Office of the Inquisit

I did f ...more

"'I thought it fit to write out for you and explain in detail in the same book the peculiarity of a certain method, by which it will be possible for you to investigate some of the problems in mathematics by means of mechanics. This procedure is, I am persuaded, no less useful even for the proofs of the theorems themselves; for certain things first became clear to me by a mechani ...more

If you want a good example of one -- ...more

Jul 05, 2010
Mikko Karvonen
rated it
did not like it
·
review of another edition

Recommends it for:
no-one

Fascinating subject - awful book.

While Beckman may know his mathematics and the story of pi, he lacks many other qualities necessary to write historical books. The writing is full of factual errors and problematic generalizations about non-mathematical things, as well as obnoxious and belittling attitude towards ancient cultures, their achivements and views of the world. A history books should not include off-hand remarks on how many historical mathematical documents arabs wiped their bottoms wi ...more

While Beckman may know his mathematics and the story of pi, he lacks many other qualities necessary to write historical books. The writing is full of factual errors and problematic generalizations about non-mathematical things, as well as obnoxious and belittling attitude towards ancient cultures, their achivements and views of the world. A history books should not include off-hand remarks on how many historical mathematical documents arabs wiped their bottoms wi ...more

Mar 27, 2008
James Lundy
rated it
liked it

Recommends it for:
nerds, math fans, history buffs, people who study numerology

The history of math and science (and therefore scientific thought, and therefore mankind) is a fascinating field. I was exposed to it in high school by a Jesuit priest who was a fanatic about it. I think I remember more about the history of science than I do about science. Anyway, this is a good read, maybe lasts a little longer than your interest in Pi does but I think it walks the middle road between too simplified and too scholarly. If you don't read the book remember this: if you have a calc
...more

I couldn't say there is much to be taken away from

*A History of Pi*though. It's engaging and well-composed, but not very thought-provoking absent any real controversy or plot direction. It's just ...more

This book is not boring. If you are willing to open your eyes to the beauty of mathematics then exploring the number Pi will astound you with humanity's desire to understand this significant and, equally, in ...more

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“If we do not require a calendar to be geared to a tropical year (earth's orbit), but only that it be geared to some part of the celestial clock, then the Maya calendar was more accurate than the Julian calendar, more accurate than the Babylonian (solar-lunar) calendar; it intermeshed the "gear wheels" of Sun, Moon and Venus, and was based on a more accurate "gear ratio" than the other calendars, repeating itself only once in 52 years.”
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“Then there is Roman engineering: the Roman roads, aqueducts, the Colosseum. Warfare, alas, has always been beneficial to engineering. Yet there are unmistakeable trends in the engineering of the gamgster states. In a healthy society, engineering design gets smarter and smarter; in gangster states, it gets bigger and bigger. In World War II, the democracies produced radar and split the atom; German basic research was far behind in these fields and devoted its efforts to projects like lenses so bog they could burn Britain, and bells so big that their sound would be lethal. (The lenses never got off the drawing board, and the bells, by the end of the war, would kill mice in a bath tub.) Roman engineering, too, was void of all subtlety. Roman roads ran absolutely straight; when they came to a mountain, they ran over the top of the mountain as pigheadedly as one of Stalin's frontal assaults. Greek soldiers used to adapt their camps to the terrain; but the Roman army, at the end of a days' march, would invariably set up exactly the same camp, no matter whether in the Alps or in Egypt. If the terrain did not correspond to the one and only model decreed by the military bureaucracy, so much the worse for the terrain; it was dug up until it fitted inti the Roman Empire. The Roman aqueducts were bigger than those that had been used centuries earlier in the ancient world; but they were administered with extremely poor knowledge of hydraulics. Long after Heron of Alexandria (1st Century A.D.) had designed water clocks, water turbines and two-cylinder water pumps, and had written works on these subjects, the Romans were still describing the performance of their aqueducts in terms of the quinaria, a measure of the cross-section of the flow, as if the volume of the flow did not also depend on its velocity. The same unit was used in charging users of large pipes tapping the aqueduct; the Roman engineers failed to realize that doubling the cross-section would more than double the flow of water. Heron could never have blundered like this.”
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