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In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  2,226 ratings  ·  161 reviews
The seventeen equations that form the basis for life as we know it

Most people are familiar with history's great equations: Newton's Law of Gravity, for instance, or Einstein's theory of relativity. But the way these mathematical breakthroughs have contributed to human progress is seldom appreciated. In In Pursuit of the Unknown, celebrated mathematician Ian Stewart untangl
Paperback, 360 pages
Published October 8th 2013 by Basic Books (first published 1996)
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MarpleInvestigates While many different forms of complex mathematics are discussed, the book is intended to open the public's eyes to equations and their role in…moreWhile many different forms of complex mathematics are discussed, the book is intended to open the public's eyes to equations and their role in scientific discovery. If you like science, I highly recommend it. (less)
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3.99  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,226 ratings  ·  161 reviews

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Ahmed Samir
So for a while now I’ve been wanting to read a popular math book and Ian is a well known mathematician. I must say I was quite disappointed.

The book has 17 chapters according to the 17 equations that are listed on the front. However, my only concern with this book is how poor the “popularization” was. Although the topics were very well written and extremely interesting, I still think he did a poor job in simplifying the math. As an engineer, most of the time, this was not an issue. But I can im
Brian Clegg
There's been a trend for a couple of years in popular science to produce 'n greatest ideas' type books, the written equivalent of those interminable '50 best musicals' or '100 favourite comedy moments' or whatever shows that certain TV companies churn out. Now it has come to popular maths in the form of Ian Stewart's 17 Equations that Changed the World.

Stewart is a prolific writer - according to the accompanying bumf he has authored more than 80 books, which is quite an oeuvre. That can't be bad
Bryan Higgs
I am a fan of Ian Stewart. I think he is one of the best writers about Mathematics and Science in general -- certainly one of the most approachable to a layman, albeit a layman with a scientific/mathematical bent. I own and have read a number of his books, and have enjoyed them all. You can find a number of my reviews of his books on Goodreads.

As the subtitle says, this book is about 17 equations that changed the world. As one who has a Ph.D. in Physics, I was familiar with all but one of these
Not every chapter in the British mathematician's latest book is actually about an equation, but most of them are. He covers Pythagora's theorem (the one about the sides of a triangle), logarithms, calculus, Newton's law of gravity, complex numbers, the relationship discovered by the Swiss mathematician Euler regarding the number of sides and vertices of polyhedra, the normal distribution (the bell curve), the equation used to describe waves, fluid mootion (Navier-Stokes equation) and electromagn ...more
Jose Gaona
Jan 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: no-ficción

(...) 17 ecuaciones que cambiaron el mundo no es un libro fácil en la medida en que su público potencial seremos lectores sin formación matemática profunda. Algunas partes requieren una lectura atenta y disciplinada y otras requerirán echar una mirada a capítulos precedentes para refrescar las nociones, ya que muchas ecuaciones se construyen a partir de ideas y conceptos ya presentados a los que el autor no vuelve. No es un manual o un libro de texto, ni m
Jan 03, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
While I enjoyed the description of many of the key equations covered, I did not find them well laid out. Either too great an understanding was assumed or too little. My major concern with the book arose in the final equation chapter where the author covers the black scholes equation and blames the financial crisis on the use of derivatives in a blanket manner. The arguments suggest a lack of understanding of fundamental economic theory particularly with regard to the need for derivatives in prov ...more
Philippe Guglielmetti
Ce livre de Ian Stewart présente 17 équations célèbres, leur histoire, leur importance, leurs applications. Bien fait, intéressant, ce livre ne soignera cependant pas les allergiques aux maths.
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice light book to give some simple introductions and applications of famous equations. However I think a few opportunities were missed. For example, it is mentioned that quantum mechanics is basic to integrated circuits, but it is not explained how. Nor are the details or some explanation of the equations gone into, again for example the Schroedinger equation. This would have been very rewarding, and I think possible.
Mar 10, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Un tomo abbastanza pesante e certamente intenso. Alcuni capitoli sono più discorsivi, altri più matematici. In alcuni passaggi ho avuto la chiara sensazione che la traduzione italiana fosse inadeguata, se non errata. Anche dopo tre o quattro lettura non era chiaro il senso.
Comunque è un testo che i ragazzi di quinta superiore dovrebbero leggere.
Lucía Bolívar sánchez
Awesome, so fun to read.
Apr 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very easy to understand for the general audience. Interesting, relevant material; a healthy mix of history of science and cutting-edge research.
When I saw this book, its subject attracted my attention. However, I found it quite hard to read at times, despite having a statistical/mathematical background. I had to read some paragraphs twice in order to understand them; The author could have spared the reader the most technical details and focussed more on explaining these equations in layman's terms.
Koen Crolla
Most of the equations discussed are from Physics, and a lot of the time it's pretty obvious Stewart is writing outside of his field there—he's probably exactly the wrong person to be writing about the implications of the Copenhagen interpretation.
Another is Shannon's information entropy equation (though Stewart labelled H ``information'', which is obviously wrong), and though information theory is technically a sub-field of mathematics, it's usually handled by computer scientists rather than pur
Gafar Alli
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Neglect of mathematics works injury to all knowledge, since he who is ignorant of it cannot know the other sciences or the things of the world" - Roger Bacon

If there ever was a book I wished I read earlier - this has to be it. If Ian Stewart had published this book pre-2003, maybe I wouldn't have skipped so many lectures after booze-induced somnolence.

Ian does justice covering 17 of the greatest mathematical equations responsible for mankind's progress. He starts off with Pythagoras..a^2 + b^2
Dec 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, read-in-2013
I bought this because I was reading Deleuze and Guattari's Thousand Plateaus and was reminded that I am unfluent in math. So at my willowy poetfriend's bookstore, I picked up this book, hoping to read about one equation a day. Which is what I did. And it's a damn fine introduction to these equations, but I've forgotten nearly everything. I can't sketch out the second law of thermodynamics, nor any of the other equations from memory, and couldn't give you but a rough outline of all of the engro ...more
Michael Cayley
Jun 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: maths
This is a book which takes some major mathematical equations and explains how they have affected the development of our world, from Pythagoras's theorem to the Black-Scholes equation for pricing financial instruments. Like some other books by Ian Stewart, it does not attempt to explain all the maths to the uninitiated, nor does it describe the technicalities of how the equations have been used in e.g. modern technology: the more mathematically-minded reader may prefer to have a fuller exposition ...more
Maurizio Codogno
Le equazioni del titolo italiano di questo libro sono solo i simboli dei temi scientifici di cui Stewart intende parlare. Alcune non sono neppure equazioni quanto definizioni, la maggior parte nascono dalla fisica e non dalla matematica. Tutte però hanno in comune la volontà degli umani di andare a caccia dell'ignoto, come recita il titolo originale. Rispetto ad altri suoi libri qui Stewart indulge molto poco ai giochi di parole, il che se avete presente cosa scrive di solito è un vantaggio. Not ...more
Oct 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stewart doesn't shy away from the mathematics of the equations in this book, but neither does he try to give you the background you would need to understand them: this is reasonable since there's pretty big mathematics behind some of them (Maxwell's equations, for example, or Fourier transforms and the wave equation). But he does explain the significance of each one, and then talks about the impact of that equation on subsequent physics, math, and society.
Ich hab das Buch vor zwei Jahren oder so beim Känguru-Wettbewerb gewonnen und ich dachte mir, Scheiß drauf! Du liest das jetzt einfach mal, bevor es hier nur rumgammelt.
Ich hab gut zwei Drittel nicht verstanden, aber es war trotzdem interessant geschrieben. Ich hab einfach noch mehr Vorkenntnisse benötigt, dann wär ja allet jut jewesen. Dem war aber nicht so. Den letzten Teil hab ich dann auch mehr überspeungen als gelesen, aber na ja, was soll's. Ich hab's durch.
Roberto Rigolin F Lopes
Here you can enjoy astonishing amount of brainpower synthesized in beautiful relations. Stewart uses an engaging approach to share the motivation and history behind the equations. The whole thing is entertaining and you may get a sense of intimacy with some of them. Well, at least math looks wonderful in these pages.
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As the book progresses the math becomes more arcane, the explanation less mathematical. That is a demerit. So the more math you know the more you can enjoy the book. I find the author's explanations ingenious and am able to understand the gist of the issues at hand. That is a sign of a great teacher. I always appreciate that.
An interesting idea, but I found the book to be so badly written that it didn't really hold my attention. Some of the equations are really important, and we ought to have a working knowledge of them, but this isn't the vehicle to impart that knowledge.
Omar Shehab
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best popsci books I have ever read.
Riju Ganguly
NO review. Just that I can't manage to bring myself back to this book again without putting myself to sleep. Maybe later.
The Busy Reader
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

When I was in high school, I benefited greatly from math teachers who were passionate about their craft (shout out to you, Mr. Lieblang and Mr. Garrett!). Their enthusiasm prompted me to continue to dabble in mathematics in college, where I advanced up to multivariable calculus. I remember learning to perform matrix multiplication in a large lecture hall, but also remember not seeing much utility in studying increasingly abstract concepts. I should have re
Noi Nhieu
Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was informative, witty and fascinating. At times it can get as addictive as a video game. I wish textbooks could have been this fun so more students can enjoy learning and doing science. And they could spare some more space on the historical aspect of a discovery. Learning about how science progressed is just as important as learning about science. Especially in this era when the collective knowledge is way beyond the capacity of any single individual or even generation, it is important to re ...more
Jun 23, 2018 rated it liked it
I read this on the recommendation of a math teacher friend, and I'd rate it higher if I knew more math. I estimate I understood about 80%. Even at that, I think everyone should read at least the first couple pages and last couple pages of every chapter. One of the chapters refers to the 2 different cultures of math/science people and humanities people. I feel like I caught a glimpse of how a mathematician might see the world--the power, complexity, and limits of patterns; the cumulative effect o ...more
Ícaro Medeiros
Um bom livro para entender os bastidores da criação de importantes equações matemáticas com discussões breves de suas implicações tecnológicas.

Talvez não dê pra aprender extensas áreas da matemática só lendo ele. Pessoalmente em vários momentos pulei partes mais técnicas avançadas, e.g. autofunções. Porém, dá um gostinho pra procurar saber mais dado o tom aventuresco do autor.

Minha parte preferida, uma citação de John Maynard Keynes sobre Newton:

"Não foi o primeiro da idade da razão. Foi o últim
Manish Mishra
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is genius, it has everything you could ask for. It begins with the very basic equations, discusses the history of mathematics around it and gradually makes the reader realize how the particular equation is embedded in the world he lives in. The book is compelling, humorous and most importantly, informative. It introduces the reader to the classical areas of mathematics and how they shaped the world early on and the later chapter (especially chapter 15-17) dive into the new mathematics ...more
Andy Cyca
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
[3.75 / 5] There's a great deal of discussion on whether this book is good or not. I believe this is because unlike other books promoting mathematics, this one *does* assume that you have some **working knowledge** on mathematics. However, I found it very illuminating regarding the history of maths, and how they are much more than just a series of meaningless, useless symbols.

I found the last chapter to be very boring and skipped about half of it. The rest is a very good read on how math lives,
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Ian Nicholas Stewart is an Emeritus Professor and Digital Media Fellow in the Mathematics Department at Warwick University, with special responsibility for public awareness of mathematics and science. He is best known for his popular science writing on mathematical themes.
--from the author's website

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