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A Tour of the Calculus
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A Tour of the Calculus

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  1,235 ratings  ·  88 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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3.73  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,235 ratings  ·  88 reviews

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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
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
GS Nathan
Sep 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-library, favorites
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
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.
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.)
Oct 30, 2016 rated it did not like it
The author thinks he's funny. He isn't.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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: math, abandoned
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!
Douglas Weathers
Dec 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, math
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.
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.
Kim Zinkowski
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Greg Givan
Very useful, conceptual/non-technical overview of the calculus; very useful. I hated all the glib stuff; you'll either like it or, like me, not.
Apr 11, 2013 added it
The purplest prose on the planet can't obscure the beauty this book reveals.
Mar 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Berlinski managed to make the story of “the” calculus both interesting and engaging. Not only that, but I also feel that I now understand calculus better (at a deeper level) than I did before. Berlinski broke up the field of calculus in its two parts, speed and area, then took a deep dive into each, only to bring them together beautifully through the fundamental theorem of calculus. Yes, the language used and the stories told are occasionally too cute, but I enjoyed them and v ...more
The ideas and history really are interesting. But this book would have benefited from several more rounds of an editor going “No, seriously David, tone it the hell down” with mounting urgency. The prose is beyond purple, it's ultraviolet, overwrought to a degree that defies parody. I am a complete nerd about both mathematics and language, and still gave up less than a quarter of the way through.
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.
Dec 24, 2018 rated it liked it
The style was inspiring at first, but I eventually got tired of the flowery language..
Bill White
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
My second reading of this book was much more enjoyable than the first time. The author is still seems a little bit too impressed with his own prose, but otherwise an interesting perspective.
May 26, 2019 rated it liked it
I don't really agree with the harsher reviews. Granted, this is more of a fun book than a knowledgeable one, it still provided perspective to something I already understood. 3/5.
Oct 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: calculus, math
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
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: math
While a Seattle software developer in the late 90s, I loaned this to a coworker (who eventually worked for Microsoft and Google). His response? "Good lord, does that man love to talk." Well, yes, but it *is* a fascinating subject he chose.
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
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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