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A Tour of the Calculus
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A Tour of the Calculus

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  1,105 Ratings  ·  82 Reviews
Were it not for the calculus, mathematicians would have no way to describe the acceleration of a motorcycle or the effect of gravity on thrown balls and distant planets, or to prove that a man could cross a room and eventually touch the opposite wall. Just how calculus makes these things possible and in doing so finds a correspondence between real numbers and the real worl ...more
Paperback, 331 pages
Published January 28th 1997 by Vintage (first published 1995)
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Tom
Sep 24, 2008 rated it did not like it
unreadably frothy. author may have already died from severe case of terminal cuteness.
James Watson
Dec 21, 2014 rated it did not like it
In writing "A Tour of the Calculus", there are three things that David Berlinski would like you to know, in order:

1. David Berlinski has read more books than you.
2. David Berlinski is well regarded among mathematicians.
3. The motivations and concepts that support calculus as a foundational achievement of modern thought.

Let me offer this praise: Berlinski faithfully and artfully expresses what almost every math teacher misses; The motivation for creating calculus was to understand a world of vary
...more
Rich
Mar 22, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: mathematics
Florid, ostentatious, and inexcusably pretentious.
Berlinski's writing does more to obfuscate than clarify, and wearies rather than enlightens the reader. Understanding mathematics requires selectivity and focus. Berlinski demonstrates that writing about it requires neither. Perhaps the most worthless, overwrought book I've ever suffered through.
Alex Stockdale
Mar 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Ugh. Almost finished, but what a slog. Picked this book up in an airport bookstore a few years ago (obviously pre-Kindle), and finally decided I should read it or get rid of it. The subject matter is, of course, fascinating. Berlinski's writing, however, seens almost guaranteed to discourage anyone from reading the book (well, maybe graduate-level humanities students would appreciate it – hard to say, since I am not). I have persevered because the historical context that Berlinski provides *is* ...more
Valerie
Jun 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: math, cypresslibrary
This is a great addition to any study of the calculus. I used it as part of the precalc class one year, and all the students asked to keep their copies. (Granted, it was a small class.)
Jesse Broussard
Apr 09, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: utter-tripe
Some enjoyable prose, but mostly a cheap script writer attempting to wax mathematical without waxing intelligent.
Ryan
Apr 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Disclaimer: there is an impossible-to-miss current of casual sexism in this slim volume. This fact is all the more regrettable owing to the book's genius.

I bought A Tour of the Calculus because its back cover compared it to Godël, Escher, Bach. That is a worthy comparison.
GS Nathan
Sep 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, my-library
David Berlinski starts the book saying that he would like to feel that that the reader says, "Yes, that's it, now I understand", when he or she finishes reading the book. And, sir, atleast this particular reader can report that you have succeeded.


Calculus and the concepts behind it have always been the stuff that even people formally educated in its methods find difficult to fully comprehend or explain. Yes, it works. Yes, it is very useful to solve real life issues. But some parts make sense wh
...more
John G
Dec 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: calculation
It has been awhile since I read this. I remember clearly the fine explanations of the origin of the limit in differential calculus. This is very important because it represents a lot of modern mathematical weakness wherein formula are not possible and instead we use approximation and logical induction.

As you probably discovered in school, even simple equations with two unknowns can be difficult. And at a higher level of difficulty, 5th degree polynomials can't be solved by anyone. Today the lim
...more
mpacer
Mar 15, 2014 rated it did not like it
I could not finish reading this. I tried, I really tried. But the author not only included incomplete and seemingly inaccurate maths, he in no way explained anything clearly, and he didn't do so in what I found to be an entertaining manner. I even got most of his references which would be difficult for others with less of a background in the history of mathematics, but even those I didn't enjoy but internally groaned.

I know a good deal of the underpinnings of calculus, and while yes, I may now k
...more
Upom
In the rushed use of calculus in physics, chemistry, biology, economics, and other subjects, it's easy to forget what an intellectual achievement it really is. "Tour of the Calculus" tries to do something which no other popular math text I've ever read has attempted: it brings poetry to mathematics. Looking both at the obscure characters who made the subject possible, as well as the various definitions, postulates, and theorems that make up the calculus, the book gives a foundational and rather ...more
Jared
Jan 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I've always loved math, but when I took calculus in high school it kind of went over my head, which is unusual. My teachers taught the technical skills to work out calculus problems, but I never learned what was really happening behind the derivatives and integrals; I never learned about instantaneous rates of change or the true relationships between a function, its derivatives, and its integrals.

This book changed that completely. It showed me, in good prose, the underlying theories and concepts
...more
Douglas Weathers
Dec 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: math, nonfiction
This book wants to be the calculus in layman's terms, but Berlinski's prose is more complicated than a textbook would be. Even though this isn't bad, I feel like it makes the book more difficult to get through than it needs to be. As complicated as his flowery, ornate writing is, Berlinski still writes well, and offers an interesting look at beginner's calculus.
Joshua
Jan 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is one of the single most incredible books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Berlinski really takes his time in exploring the Calculus, providing insight into it's history and applications as he does so. A phenomenal read: always interesting, rarely difficult, never boring.
Hotske
Apr 11, 2013 added it
The purplest prose on the planet can't obscure the beauty this book reveals.
JaeHee
Oct 30, 2016 rated it did not like it
The author thinks he's funny. He isn't.
Wanda
Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written book, giving both fanciful historical perspectives as well as excellent analogies to support light proofs. Although the prose is sometimes challenging to parse, I was completely drawn into the scenes painted with (grantedly) florid prose, and even burst out laughing at some of Berlinski’s quips. I had such fun doodling my notes in the sidebars, filling out some details of the proofs that were glossed over... What a delightful overview of the development and denoueme ...more
Monty Circus
Nov 24, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned, math
I was given this as a gift by my older sister (the shit one), another gift straight out of the bargain bin (or perhaps she found it lying in a gutter somewhere). I thought it would help me with my high school calculus class. I was dead wrong. It addled my brain with garbage and I failed out quickly. Thanks sis!
Kurt Schwind
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
The book does a better than good job of putting the history and story of the calculus in an easy and entertaining format. However, at times David Berlinski gets very purple in his prose. Enough that I had to take periodic breaks away from reading it to find one of my eyes that rolled so much that it fell out of my head.
Rob Hudson
Jul 01, 2017 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the history of how all the math advances came about but it was a bit too flowery for me and I skipped all the proofs which I wasn't interested in. I enjoyed this but struggled to find the history amid the extravagance.
Kim Zinkowski
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
A-.
Moonwalking
Oct 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: math, calculus
Numbers can express real world; that's the assumption.
Let's take the simplest reality, a straight line. Put a zero somewhere and negatives are on the left and positives are on the right. There are large gaps, though, say between zero and one. Now, define a pair of integers (with division in between) as a rational number. We have filled quite a bit, not the whole line, though, because the square root of 2 is not a rational number. Thence come the irrational numbers -- Dedekind's cut is one way to
...more
Mary Nguyen
Sep 12, 2013 rated it liked it
The book itself is a pretty enjoyable read with the occasional humor.

I would really recommend the book for people who are interested in knowing the history behind calculus, but I don't think it's a great read for people that already KNOW calculus. For example I thought it was a bit irritating towards the integral section when he discusses simple integrals. He tends to only write "integral of f(x)" rather than "integral of f(x) times dx)" or whatever variable he happens to use. While that isn't q
...more
Richard
Nov 08, 2008 rated it liked it
This is a sweetly quirky and slightly poetic examination of mathematics. Because of the title, I suppose it gets all the way to calculus, but I didn't make it that far.

That annoys me, because I've long regretted not learning my math better. I was very good at math in my youth—making it to calculus as a sophomore in high school. Unfortunately for my progress beyond that point, I naturally think like an engineer and quickly get frustrated at what seem (to me) to be purely academic abstractions. If
...more
Sandeep Chopra
Dec 21, 2013 rated it did not like it
It's difficult to write a whole big book and remain uninteresting in almost every page. It's almost like the author decided to write a book and then started wondering whether he should write one about skies and daisies and greenery, or about calculus. And, confused that he was, he wrote a book about neither.

Stripped of all the rubbish which is passed off as "poetry", the book would have been 1/4 th its length, am article, which had a better place in the Saturday edition of a tabloid - so publis
...more
Jason
Jan 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: mathematics
I made it through about half of the book before finally stopping -- not because of Berlinksi's prose, but because of my own inability to grasp the mathematics involved.

This is the second book of Berlinski's books that I have read. His style, I sense, will not appeal to everyone. His prose can approach the florid at times, and his more literary approach to investigating and explaining mathematics may not sit well with some. Still, there is something refreshing in reading a book on calculus that
...more
Robert Kinosian
Sep 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is excellent so far. It explores calculus from a philosophical, poetic, and historical viewpoint in addition to the more traditional mechanical approach. And yes, I said poetic: this book about math is filled with poetry, an ode to calculus from cover to cover. It's worth reading just to see how that is possible.

It starts from the very basic (defining a point, a line, numbers) and of course leads up to plenty of in-depth calculus discussion/philosophizing. It's from 1995, I found it in
...more
Katie Curry
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book was rather disappointing to me on the subject of calculus. As a current student of calculus, I was looking for an alternative and more in depth approach to the basic principles of calculus and its history. Instead, I felt as though I had been drug through superfluous antecedents and dismal attempts at staying 'hip' or 'readable'. While some brief paragraphs were indeed very helpful at looking at calculus from a different perspective, I rather think my time overall would have been bette ...more
Ryan
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Finally, a book that speaks to the humanity of mathematics. 'What humanity?' you might ask. A fair question, but a bit knee-jerk you must admit. Berlinski lays out beautifully just how amazing it is that 'THE' calculus was achieved at all. It is the first TRUE insight that is beyond the mere measurement of nature - it can help you PREDICT nature. And thus applied mathematics and physics are born in one fell swoop.

The writing style is great. The metaphors and historical context are on point. I hi
...more
Carlos
This book was quite a throwback to when I was taking calculus. Berlinski discusses all those theorems that are fed to new calculus students with the difference that he actually makes sense out of them. Although he, as any good mathematician, insists on presenting the proofs for every theorem, his discussion of the stories, both of the authors and the times, behind each of them more than make up for the proofs.
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David Berlinski is a senior fellow in the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

Recent articles by Berlinski have been prominently featured in Commentary, Forbes ASAP, and the Boston Review. Two of his articles, “On the Origins of the Mind” (November 2004) and “What Brings a World into Being” (March 2001), have been anthologized in The Best American Science Writing 2005, edited by A
...more
More about David Berlinski...

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