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The Mathematical Experience

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  592 ratings  ·  31 reviews
This is the classic introduction for the educated lay reader to the richly diverse world of mathematics: its history, philosophy, principles, and personalities.
Paperback, 464 pages
Published January 14th 1999 by Mariner Books (first published 1980)
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Average rating 4.02  · 
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 ·  592 ratings  ·  31 reviews

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One of my pet peeves is the belief that "creative" people are those who study the humanities and that "analytical" types (as if "analytical" must somehow stand in opposition to creativity) are those who study sciences and mathematics. Perhaps this belief stems from a mathematics education grounded in rote, memorization, and dull exercises. The Mathematical Experience is about mathematics, but takes a much more philosophical tone, exploring the concept of proof and truth, the history of math, and ...more
Dec 18, 2008 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: aspiring young mathematicians & civilian math fanboys
My second dip into this book was routed by an encounter with Godel, Escher, Bach. I'm sorry Mathematical Experience, but your womanly wiles are no match for the allures of recursion and paradoxes that is GEB. Perhaps one day we will meet again...

Despite our early parting of ways, I can highly recommend this book to (a) young students getting interesting in long-term studies in mathematics and (b) civilian math fanboys who want to know more about the culture of mathematics.

The book reads like an
Interesting book. I pick it up and put it down whenever. There's some cool info and history in there. ...more
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, math, philosophy
Doing intermediate level Mathematics alone in cold nights of winters, i felt strange sensation of entering into the magical world of abstract math. The Math which has nothing to do with the mundane reality of daily life. later in life i left abstract math and philosophy for its application in different unrelated field. Although application of math was very interesting but my mind remained stuck in abstract world and that strange sensation.

Years later reading and watching biographies of great mat
Mykyta Kuzmenko
Apr 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Авторы книги очень начитанные ребята. Только за список ссылок на достойные источники нужно иметь ее на примете. В общем она о математике в очень широком смысле слова. Много нестандартных точек зрения. Понравилось.
Jul 28, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: A different garbage can
Recommended to Remy by: A garbage can
All in all, I'd say this is worth reading, although with some reservations. I can't complain too much, since I found it in the trash. It does a pretty great job introducing historical figures. Also, there are plenty of neat puzzles and proofs, if you can follow them.

Here are my nitpicks:

It definitely feels a bit dated, for one thing.

The authors suffer terribly from the curse of knowledge; they obviously have no idea what is meant by "general reader".

It is far too polemical. The authors get less
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: maths, teaching
Wow, from Plato to Polya, this venerable work looks very very much like it is worth reading, taking notes, and reading again just for the pleasure of it, once I actually have time to enjoy all of the citations (like the Myth of Euclid?! and Chinese mathematics!! -cool!!!).
I so enjoy the study of teaching mathematics, pity I don't enjoy the students nearly as much, the vast majority of the time (ok, nearly all of the time, but I do enjoy planning my lessons!).

And let us not forget Pacioli, of dou
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: math, philosophy
This book does a good job coming to terms with the fundamental dilemma of mathematics: what in the world is it? While I don't agree with all their conclusions, the book really does convey a sense of the difficulties lying behind the mathematical experience. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the philosophy of mathematics or in epistemology in general. ...more
May 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Good overview of the history of math and how it has shaped what mathematicians are researching today.
Tobias Trapp
Aug 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An outstanding book that proves that public understand of mathematics is possible.
May 15, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Somewhat technical but still accessible for the educated layman. Probably the most useful and interesting math book I have ever read.
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I can't say enough about how much I enjoyed this book while a math major in college. Highly recommended for math fans. ...more
Brian Salchert
Apr 24, 2008 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
by Philip J. Davis and Reuben Hersh
Am reading this book slowly
and in no particular order.
Am heavily into "The Prime Number Theorem" chapter.
Am getting some new insights.
Feb 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book for anyone interested in mathematicians and their place in society. The imaginary dialogs are hilarious.
André Luiz
Jan 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: matem
A new perception of math
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"Our knowledge of what exists may go far beyond what we are able to calculate or even approximate. Here is a simple instance of this. We are given a triangle with three unequal sides. We ask, is there a vertical line which bisects the area of the triangle? Within algorithmic mathematics one might pose the problem of finding such a line, by ruler and compass, or by more generous means. Within dialectic mathematics, one can answer, yes, such a line exists without doing any work at all. One need on ...more
Fernando Pestana da Costa
This is the Portuguese translation of "The Mathematical Experience". An interesting attempt to convey the nature and importance of Mathematics to the lay reader, the text digresses through a variety of topics in a clear and, at times, inspired prose. It is not a mathematical text though, and apart from Chapter 5 and some examples spread through Chapters 4 and 6, not much mathematical culture is required from the reader, although someone lacking a mathematical education at the level of the first ...more
James Morrison
Mathematics is certainly useful to science, engineering and even our daily lives. We never stop and think about accepting the legitimacy of the basis for it. Can we really prove that 1+1=2? Sure, math is useful, but is it a man-made creation that helps us understand the universe, or is it something we discover that is abstract that exists independent of us and our language, thought, and practices just as stars exist independently of us? If you enjoy math and the history of math or if you enjoy p ...more
packed with interesting stuff, first half mostly of historical interest, middle parts have well-written expositions about a variety of topics across many subdomains of math, and towards the end talks about pedagogy and philosophy.

Has discussions about formalism vs. Platonism (as well as Brouwer's constructionism/intuitionism) and how "philosophy of mathematics" is typically about foundations, i.e., Russell, Frege, and Hilbert, whose formalist-foundational projects were blown up by Goedel and as
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Intellectual dissonance! The history lesson is so important! Loved it as a 19 year old. And, now reading it as a 50-year old rereading it I feel even more inadequate in my knowledge of mathematics.

I will be reading this a lot more in the coming days and years.
Aug 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
I lost interest and will probably never finish it.
From the preface: "The book is not intended to present a systematic, self-contained discussion of a specific corpus of mathematical material, either recent or classical. It is intended rather to capture the inexhaustible variety presented by the mathematical experience."


I didn't love this book. I'm not even sure I'd say I liked it. It was roughly 50 pages of "Oh, that's (semi-)interesting," and 361 pages of "zzzzzZZzZzzZZZ." It's basically a book of essays (each chunk is shorter than a cha
Ton van Gessel
Nov 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: math
This is a great book. If you are at all interested in mathematics you should read this. It's written in a pleasant stile. Its not overly popularized and not pedantic. It covers a wide range of subjects some things you will undoubtedly know, some things you know but never really thought about and some things completely new ( to me at least ). They don't force there opinion on you I wish more science writing was done in this style. As you see I don't want to give away to much because reading the b ...more
Jul 16, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: mathematicians, larval mathematicians, math groupies
this is an excellent book that discusses the history of mathematics, as well as the evolutions of mathematical philosophy, citing clear understandable examples.

Reading this book helped me understand my discipline better and helped me understand where the field of mathematics has been and where it is heading.

I think having a math background helped me understand this book. I don't know if someone without a math background would like this book as much.
Dec 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: math
An interesting book, perhaps not for the general reader, about the state of mathematics today. reading it had a definite influence on my decision not to pursue pure mathematics as a career.
It refers to the 'generic mathematician' as 'he' throughout
drublood Duro
May 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
I tried my best to get through this, and was encouraged by the preface that claimed non math nerds would find comprehensible material in the book. I found very little I could relate to on any level, and finally gave up. hahaha.
Leo W.
Jun 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Completely accessible. Nicely written and not at all dated (despite being published in 1981). Compelling in its satire of the foundations of mathematics.
Sep 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: math, nonfic
Stopped at p. 126 "Abstraction"
QA8.4.D370 Crerar
Peter Flom
Sep 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: math
What do mathematicians DO all day? This book provides some answers. Here is my review on Yahoo Voices: ...more
rated it really liked it
Sep 24, 2012
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Beyond Mathematical Platonism and other Mathematical Mysticisms 1 3 Mar 10, 2018 03:50PM  

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