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Is God a Mathematician?

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  1,175 ratings  ·  164 reviews
Bestselling author and astrophysicist Mario Livio examines the lives and theories of history’s greatest mathematicians to ask how—if mathematics is an abstract construction of the human mind—it can so perfectly explain the physical world.

Nobel Laureate Eugene Wigner once wondered about “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” in the formulation of the laws of nature
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 6th 2009 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2009)
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3.82  · 
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 ·  1,175 ratings  ·  164 reviews

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Ken Roebuck
Jul 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The answer to the question "Is God a Mathematician" depends very much on your world view. Those of faith that believe in a transcendent creator God will surely answer with a resounding YES. But Atheists and other non believers are likely to think mathematics is nothing more than an invention of the human mind. Nevertheless, it remains that the universe appears to have been designed by a pure mathematician. As James Jean put it “mathematics appears to be almost too effective in describing and exp ...more
Crina Bucur
Sep 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone curious
I was pleasantly surprised by Mario Livio’s “Is God a Mathematician?” specifically his eloquence in walking the readers through the most significant moments in the history of mathematics and acquainting them with prominent figures on an extensive timeline from antiquity to modern days.

As the title suggests, the main focus of the book is represented by the existence of various paradigms describing how we should approach mathematics, among which two stand out as poles apart: formalism (claiming th
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Great book, highly recommended to anybody interested in the relationship between mathematics and physical reality. The author demonstrates his wide knowledge and culture, which is not limited only to mathematics and physics, but also to philosophy, cognitive sciences etc. A very comprehensive account, the only small defect being that the final conclusive part seems a bit rushed.
Feb 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
In Is God A Mathematician, Mario Livio tries to explain the "unreasonable effectiveness" of mathematics to make sense of nature. Why do so many basic truths of physics, nature and the universe obey mathematical laws? Livio also tackles the question of whether mathematics is discovered (an objective truth independent of human thought) or invented (the product of human thought and reasoning). Along the way, Livio provides a fascinating mini-history of the development of math, biographies of some o ...more
Jun 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
In this book, Livio addresses the question of why the principles and laws of mathematics seem so "unreasonably effective" in explaining the physical world. For instance, when Newton deduced the law of gravity, he could hardly have known that these mathematical laws would for six orders of magnitude more precision than the data he originally was trying to match. In a similar way, there are numerous instances in 20th century physics of mathematical principles, previously discovered by mathematicia ...more
Jimmy Ele
Jul 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Interesting for the sections on the Mathematicians such as Archimedes. Did it answer the question? No. I felt like I was just baited into reading the book. Mario Livio examines the Neoplatonic ideas of the origin of Mathematics as well as the AntiPlatonist argument. He seems to side with the AntiPlatonist argument in the end. I still really enjoyed the book and it led me to put some other books on my To Read shelf. All in all, I don't consider it time wasted to have read this book.
Mar 10, 2017 rated it liked it
So – “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.” Why is it that the laws of nature are so nicely expressed by mathematical formulas, and even more strangely, how is it possible that a theorist can manipulate his equations and predict something entirely new – like a new elementary particle – which will turn out to be real? Is nature based on mathematics? And what is mathematics anyway? Is it invented or discovered? All really fascinating questions. However, most of this book is math history. ...more
Steven Williams
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mario Livio examines the difficult to figure out effectiveness of mathematics in science. He also discusses the nature of mathematics, in particularly is mathematics invented or discovered? The reason for this discussion is that it becomes important to how you view the effectiveness issue, which is the major topic of the book.

After stating the “mystery” of the effectiveness of mathematics in science in chapter one, Livio discusses the Greeks views on mathematics, especially Pythagoras and Plato
James (JD) Dittes
Since the enlightenment, mathematics and the sciences have ascended heights where God alone used to dwell, growing in scope and complexity and marveling the world with miracles like fusion, antibiotics, and space travel. Livio's title, "Is God a Mathematician?" isn't so much an effort to unite math and theology as it is an effort to find out how omnipotent and omniscient math can truly be.

The first half reads as a history of science--going over the ground of Archimides, Galileo, Copernicus and
Feb 08, 2009 rated it really liked it

Pi in The Sky is still the gold standard for books trying to explain why mathematics fits the real world with unreasonable effectiveness as the famous Wigner quote puts it. This book is still worth a read, but does not bring anything new, though it's entertaining and well written
Ami Iida
Nov 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: math
It's various mathematical categories.
Jeff Hascall
Sep 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This non-fiction read explores an issue I've never mentally wrestled with before. It's a pressing question from the corner of Mathematics St. and Philosophy Blvd. "Where does math come from?" Is it an integral part of a system at the heart of the universe that we are constantly discovering or is it merely the formal method we've created and placed on top of our perception of the universe to explain what we see? Or, in Livio's words, how do we wrestle with the "unreasonable effectiveness" of math ...more
Robert B
May 22, 2017 rated it liked it
The catchy title is somewhat misleading, as Livio, an astrophysicist, does not really look at any aspect of God. Instead, Livio explores “the unreasonable effectiveness” of math, asking whether math is something “out there” in the real world that people have discovered or whether it is an invention of the human mind that just happens to apply well to reality. He answers the question by examining the work of great mathematicians, including Pythagoras, Descartes, Galileo, Newton, et al. In the end ...more
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Lots of math but not much God...felt like more of a “history of math” book than a Christian math book as I was hoping for. Great information that debates the issue of whether math is invented or discovered (which I personally believe is a mix of both). Some dry humor made it interesting. If you enjoy math, it’s not a bad read. But if you’re looking for a Christian math book, this isn’t the one for you.
Bill Yates
Jan 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The catchy title is a little misleading. The book deals with how well mathematics describes nature and with the question, Is Mathematics Invented or Discovered?
Aug 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
First off, I'll begin by recommending this book to anyone who: is a newbie to mathematics, is a math enthusiast, enjoys digging deeper into the history of math and the people behind it, and anyone in general who is interested in math.
Note: I think those of you who have more experience with math (and its history) might not find anything new in this book -- but it's still a fun read which you could breeze through and enjoy.

Secondly, I've thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Livio's style is somew
Dec 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Senior astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and author of a few other math books aimed at the general public, Mario Livio has written a short, accessible, and in many ways profound exploration of the nature of mathematics. He centers his book around two questions: 1. "Is mathematics ultimately invented or discovered?" and 2. "Why is mathematics so effective and productive in explaining the world around us that it even yields new knowledge?"

He frames his inquiry with wha
Arno Mosikyan
The reality is that without mathematics, modern-day cosmologists could not have progressed even one step in attempting to understand the laws of nature.

Einstein once wondered: “How is it possible that mathematics, a product of human thought that is independent of experience [the emphasis is mine], fits so excellently the objects of physical reality?”

Penrose identifies three different “worlds”: the world of our conscious perceptions, the physical world, and the Platonic world of mathematical form
Mar 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Yofish by: WaPo review Feb 2009
Shelves: read-math
Written by a relatively famous physicist. Purports to examine the question as to whether math is invented or discovered. Never really gets around to 'answering' that question, and the final chapter is pretty disappointing. But there's a lot of good math history in there---mini-biographies of Newton, Galileo, Descartes, Aristotle among others. (He seems to have an odd bias against Gauss, for reasons I don't understand, and Euler barely receives mention.) Nice description of the rise of non-Euclid ...more
Hessa Al Thani
Jan 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
For those who are thrown off by the title, the book mainly addresses the questions of why mathematics is so effective at modeling reality and whether mathematics was invented or discovered. It's a great read that shows many persuasive examples of the applications of mathematics. It also fleshes out the philisophical discussion of whether mathematics is invented or discovered really well, bringing in many mathematicians and philosophers ideas to the table. My favorite part was when the author was ...more
Apr 27, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
What accounts for the uncanny ability of mathematics to model the physical world? Is mathematics purely a human construct, an external reality, or something in between. These are the questions Livio sets out to address. He spends most of the book setting the stage for that, by reviewing critical developments in math and its use for modeling, from ancient Greece to the 21st century. In the end, Livio's personal answers to the questions don't matter as much as the enjoyment of the journey he takes ...more
May 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
The first half is a stale history of mathematicians, lacking in actual math. The second half is more interesting, when it gets into topology and non-Euclidean geometry. Much of the philosophy in the book suffers from the too common disease of struggling to define terms instead of presenting substantive arguments. However, the last chapter has some real gems in it, so I'd say this one's worth a read!
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I am a slow reader, else normally this book can be easily completed within a week's time. Very interesting read particularly for someone interested in science and history of mathematics.
Го Шо
Oct 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
It was a bit more popular than I expected it to be but it was still good.
Sajith Kumar
Jul 06, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All
Shelves: popular-science
Science is an attempt to read God’s mind which is evident in the physical reality as the rules and principles which hold the world together. Livio’s book is an elegant attempt to tell the epic story of man’s quest to peer into nature itself and to grasp its fundamental principles with the help of his greatest intellectual tool – mathematics. Its extraordinary ability to describe the world has been a source of wonder to philosophists ever. This feat comes in two varieties. In one category named a ...more
Austin Trammell
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mathematicians
Shelves: in-the-classroom
Mario Livio does an amazing j0b introducing and following the question of "Is mathematics invented or discovered?" throughout the book. Designed for readers who have little-to-moderate understandings of the mathematics, Is God a Mathematician? introduces a wide variety of mathematicians and notes a few of their recognitions in mathematics. Although keeping up with each of the mathematicians have to say about the question at hand can be rather difficult as it seems almost every page has a new sou ...more
Sumon Jose
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful work by Mathematician and Astrophysicist Mario Livio. One of the questions that has puzzled the scientists, be it Physicists or Chemists or Cosmologists or Biologist is the inexplicable efficiency of Mathematics in explaining the mysteries of the universe. And in this book, Livio is taking us on a tour right from the days of Pythagoras who worshiped numbers as Gods to the days of modern day science, looking at the progress in Science and the efficiency of Mathematics in direc ...more
Jason Carter
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology, culture
Livio, author of one of my favorite books (The Golden Ratio), approaches the title question by exploring the progression of mathematics from the ancient mystics (Pythagoras and Plato) down to the modern physicists (Einstein and Godel), with a fascinating history in between. He asks the question, "Is mathematics invented or discovered?" throughout and demonstrates that the answer to this question has always had adherents on both sides, but has generally ebbed and flowed with the Western ages.

Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm inclined towards the formalist/constructivist/anti-realist perspective of 'reality', so I'm often disappointed with books about mathematics which are often entranced by the idealist/realist magic of geometry and math for its explanatory and predictive power.

I was not disappointed with Mario Livio's Is God a Mathematician?, however, which I thought it was very well written and offered a balanced excursion through the history of math and how truly awesome it is, while still convincingly keepi
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
At its core, this is a discussion of the debate between formalism and Platonism, and Mario Olivi strives to answer the question of the "unreasonable effectiveness" of mathematics. The book got off to a strong start and a conclusive finish, but the middle was so boring I almost didn't finish it. I recommend this to someone who has a keen interest in history or a passing interest in mathematics and philosophy. Or just read the first and last chapters if you have a background in either and are inte ...more
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