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A History of Pi

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  2,394 ratings  ·  114 reviews
HARDCOVER with Dust Jacket - published by Barnes and Noble.
Hardcover, 202 pages
Published March 21st 2007 by Marboro Books (first published January 1st 1970)
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Steev Mathew I really enjoyed the book. The author has balanced the background history and the mathematical concepts, so that it can be appreciated by anyone even…moreI really enjoyed the book. The author has balanced the background history and the mathematical concepts, so that it can be appreciated by anyone even without a thorough mathematical base. But I would say, it can be a lot more appreciated if you can work out the math.(less)

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3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,394 ratings  ·  114 reviews

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Andrew Breslin
Apr 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received this book on March 14, during my annual pi day celebration. We had finished the pizza, but hadn’t gotten to the apple pie yet. We were listening to a special music mix for the occasion, including “Circle Dream,” by 10,000 maniacs, “Wagon Wheel,” by Old Crow Medicine Show and of course, “American Pie,” by Don Mclean. And while the pie was delicious, this made for an even tastier dessert.

What the world needs now are more opinionated and bellicose mathematicians, and I’m itching to pumme
Chad Bearden
The fact that it was written in 1971 adds a little bit of out-of-date flavor that makes "A History of Pi" a lot more amusing than it otherwise might have been.

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
Jimmy Ele
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Brilliantly outlined history of pi, but just like Charles Seife's "Zero The Biography of a Dangerous Idea", I am left wanting more. I want the Chinese, Mayan, and Indian history of pi. The Mayan history of pi was most likely burned by that one bishop, but the Chinese and Indian history I believe to be still in existence. Other than that, it was a thoroughly engrossing read and definitely nice to have read for my continuing Mathematics education.
Jul 22, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pop-science
In the first few pages, the author describes this book as being 'light on the math.' Well, you could have fooled me! Clearly, it is a book about math, and more than that, it is a book about a transcendental number, a constant that can NOT be written. So, starting from that point, you know that any math this *is* included is likely to be bizarre. Fair enough.

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
May 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Halfway through the book, the author writes that "the digits beyond the first few decimal places [of Pi] are of no practical scientific value. Four decimal places are sufficient for the design of the finest engines; ten decimal places would be sufficient to obtain the circumference of the earth within a fraction of an inch". And yet I find myself continuing reading through the rest of the book of how new methods to find more decimals places were discovered.
Although a little outdated in the last
Satendra Deo
Feb 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Easily readable for a mathematical book. Full of interesting anecdotes. A little light on Eastern mathematicians. Consider
1. Chinese - Lui Hui’s (3rd century) Algorithm - With this method Zu Chongzhi obtained the eight-digit result: 3.1415926 < π < 3.1415927, which held the world record for the most accurate value of π for 1200 years,

2. Japanese - Seki Takakazu (1642 – 1708 ) who knew Pi to 10 decimal places
Mar 01, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mathochists?
Shelves: numbiz, non-fiction
Dear Goodreads Admins:

Please rig your system so that the average star rating for this book is equal to the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, rounded to three significant digits.


P.S. I am still almost as ignorant about π as i was before reading this book. Disappointing.
Dec 23, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title is pretty self-explanatory. You want to know how pi was discovered? Read this.

For some reason I'm semi-fascinated with the discovery of math... If anyone knows a good book about vectors let me know!
L. Scott
Jan 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Entertaining, both for its handling of the topic, which is illuminating and entertaining in its own right when not jarringly interrupted by insufficiently introduced/notated mathematics, and for the bulk of the book, which vacillates between tangental to the topic and mere butterfly chasing and which contains much of the author's mockery of those who suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect while often serving its own example of that. Some sort of Irony Tower (Dunning-Kruger-Turtle-Tower).
Dec 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book earns five stars for the explanations of the history how the knowledge of the ratio of the circumference of a circle to the diameter (π) progressed. The rating was reduced due to the inclusion of several snarky and otherwise irrelevant comments regarding politics and the actions of governments.
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
Dec 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read.

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
Jan 01, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008
This is the kind of book that Barnes & Noble publishes then practically gives away around Christmas as suggested stocking stuffers. I think that's how I ended up with it. Anyway, this book turned out to be much better than anticipated. It traces pi throughout history, going back to Babylonians and Egyptians and guessing how they might have arrived at their calculations. Practically every famous mathematician--Euclid, Descartes, Archimedes, Galileo Newton, Euler, etc--is discussed here, as pi ...more
Keith Parrish
Apr 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When my oldest daughter was accepted to the North Carolina School of Science and Math (a college level high school for the smartest and nerdiest students in North Carolina), I went with her to orientation. At one of the sessions, the chairman of the math department came out and said, "This is what we teach in math here at NCSSM." Forty-five minutes later I leaned over to my daughter and said, "Have you understood anything in the last 45 minutes?" Saying that she had, I was baffled but reassured. ...more
Roberto Rigolin F Lopes
We are in 1970, Petr assumes that history of pi matches well with history of human civilization. After all, we are tool-wielding animals (from a quoted in the book). Given a century (say between - 2000 and < 1970), our sophistication computing pi is related to scientific developments in that time window. And Petr dares to go through the centuries sharing his sharp opinion on civilization (he is hilarious sometimes). For example, some religious texts (say > 1) were happy with pi = 3. But, m ...more
Oct 09, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The History of π is a fascinating work in the sense that it provides a narrative which frames for the reader, the development of this infamous mathematical constant’s calculation. The logical sequence of mathematical proofs as interwoven with the text is surely the strong point of the work. The weakness lies in the author’s multitude of obvious personal biases. Beckmann’s passionate political views quickly transform his attempt at a serious account in the history of science, to an ardent rant ag ...more
Rod Innis
Aug 08, 2018 rated it liked it
This book has a lot of the history of Pi - I can't type the symbol. It also has a lot of additional history of mathematics in general. I have read a number of such books. I just wish I could remember all that I have read!
There are some parts of this book where the math becomes too complicated for my not so mathematical mind, but the author does a pretty good job of simplifying quite a bit of it for the non-mathematician.
He does often show his bias against religion - particularly Christianity - p
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Overall a good book. It's a bit dated, especially when the author talks about "modern" attempts to calculate pi on computers and how the current record is 500,000 digits (as of 2018, 2.7 trillion digits are known). There is some heavy math in the book, but it's not important that you understand it in order to enjoy the book.

My biggest complaint is how much of the book really isn't about pi. Entire chapters are about historical periods and other breakthroughs in mathematics with a spattering of "
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting history

It’s hard to imagine that anyone could spend 220 pages talking about one number. It’s even harder to imagine how otherwise sane people would spend years trying to outdo each other in the number of decimal places they could achieve in calculating pi. That being said, the book turned out to be pretty entertaining. It has some interesting historical notes on great mathematicians and scholars as well as some righteous bashing of the church, the state, and the conquerors for sup
Jan 01, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had no idea the history of a transcendental number could be so politicized! Wastes an entire chapter complaining about how the Romans were a bunch of pricks that he describes as a "thug state." Good for a giggle, and some good info about pi, but he holds nothing back when it comes to his Zionist agenda.
Jim Conant
Dec 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I first read this book when I was in middle school, maybe 6th or 7th grade, and it really captured my imagination. I saw many of the formulae in there as an exciting promise of math to be learned in the future. Reading the book a second time now, I'm bemused by the author's many strong opinions. There are few places where you'll find Aristotle dismissed as a twit, but it's refreshing for sure.
Ryan Muzzey
Aug 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Can’t give it a rating with six significant figures. Three is close enough, right? While I enjoyed reading the book, it veered away from the subject matter more than I would like. Some of the proofs were beyond me and might have been explained better. I still found it very interesting and learned quite a bit from it.
Jun 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Interesting presentation about PI, and a devastating critique of how first Rome then the Roman Catholic Church postponed progress for nearly two millennia.

Just technical enough to tell the story, an enjoyable and fast read.
Neelima Yeddanapudi
Mar 23, 2017 is currently reading it
Reading for pi day.
Junaid Selahadin
I'm very interesting on pi and I'm very exiting now .i want read now .thank u
Jan 06, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beckmann's highly opinionated book mixes genuine insight with highly tangential comments and claims. I first read this book several decades ago and remember really liking its iconoclastic style. On rereading, however, Beckmann comes across as more grating and abrasive. The final chapter on digital computing is, of course, hopelessly out of date. The comments on politics also distract from the book's good points.
Mugizi Rwebangira
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my all-time favorite math books because not only does Petr Beckmann give an excellent and easy to understand history of this most important number, but he has a very unique writing voice that just cracks me up.

He was this cranky eastern European engineering professor and I am sure he was quite a character in real life, but that character adds just the perfect flavor to this material!
Jeroen Bos-mulder
Nice book containing historical overview on how pi was computed throughout the centuries. The author includes his personal opinions on several matters which is sometimes a bit distracting but most of the time amusing addons.
Especially the last chapter on what computer can and will do for society is his time far ahead.
Louis C Smith
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pi through the ages

Interesting documentaries on the waves of authoritarianism that pervade human history. The joy of exploring “what if” wins eventually, and leaves ignorance untouched.
Tim Mccaskey
Mar 18, 2018 rated it liked it
An informative and entertaining (in places) read. Makes you really appreciate the modern way we notate algebra and use vocabulary in math. Doesn't pull punches politically either!
Feb 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
I'm enjoying this book; even with Beckmann's rants. But my problem is with his willful ignoring of facts, especially when you consider how little tolerance Beckmann has for good research. For example take this passage from the chapter Night:
In 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
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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.” 2 likes
“The architecture of the thugs also differs from that of normal societies. It can often be recognized by the megalomaniacal style of their public buildings and facilities. The Moscow subway is a faithful copy of the London Underground, except that its stations and corridors are filled with statues of homo sovieticus, a fictitious species that stands (or sits on a tractor), chin up, chest out, belly in, heroically gazing into the distance with a look of grim determination. The Romans had similar tastes. Their public latrines were lavishly decorated with mosaics and marbles. When a particularly elaborately decorated structure at Puteoli was dug up by archaeologists in the last century, they thought at first that they had discovered a temple; but it turned out to be a public latrine.” 1 likes
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