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Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  4,813 ratings  ·  584 reviews
Without calculus, we wouldn’t have cell phones, TV, GPS, or ultrasound. We wouldn’t have unraveled DNA or discovered Neptune or figured out how to put 5,000 songs in your pocket.

Though many of us were scared away from this essential, engrossing subject in high school and college, Steven Strogatz’s brilliantly creative, down‑to‑earth history shows that calculus is not abo
Hardcover, 360 pages
Published April 2nd 2019 by Mariner Books
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Urban Vyaas Sometimes it´s just the old saying: unknown is unbeloved. I demonstrated once to a professor in American Literature how trends in literary fiction can…moreSometimes it´s just the old saying: unknown is unbeloved. I demonstrated once to a professor in American Literature how trends in literary fiction can be mathematically expressed and analyzed by an algorithm. The calculus showed some weird correlations, worth further investigation, but he declared that he wanted having nothing to do with such literature. Just as if you can deny the existence of some phenomena because they don´t fit into your ways of perceiving and interpreting the reality.(less)
Joel Shore I agree with Urban about the communication aspect, but would just add (from the point of view of a physicist) that you will also probably learn more a…moreI agree with Urban about the communication aspect, but would just add (from the point of view of a physicist) that you will also probably learn more about the history of calculus and that at least some of the applications will likely be new to you. It is a very well-written book with lots of insight. This book was actually recommended in an e-mail discussion with several math professors at the university where I teach physics.(less)

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Jenna is buying a house and mostly too busy for GR ❤ ❀  ❤
Calculation Math GIF - Calculation Math Hangover GIFs

"Everything becomes simpler at infinity."

I have a habit of seeing a book, realising it's on a subject I don't know much about, and finding myself overcome with a strong desire, a need even, to read the book.  That was the case with Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe.  I knew nothing about Calculus.  The only math I took in school was Algebra and Geometry and though I loved both of them, I can't remember diddly-squat about them. As for Calculus? Never learned it
The Language of God

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Steven Strogatz seems conflicted. He presents mathematical calculus as a description of reality and within a paragraph or two recants and calls it a useful fiction. He claims that it reveals the hidden structure of the universe; yet he admits that its fundamental presumptions co
Always Pouting
Jan 07, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Personally I really enjoyed this book. I think it did a good job of making something most people find inscrutable seem more accessible. With abstract concepts I think its always helpful to try to use analogies or demonstrate their practical application. I actually am currently about to take a higher level calculus course so I read this in hopes of hyping myself up and I think I feel sufficiently motivated now. I do understand some of the reviews complaining about his overzealousness assertions a ...more
Ryan Boissonneault
Apr 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Calculus is one of those subjects that is so complicated that most people not only don’t understand it, they don’t even know what it is that they don’t understand. But that’s unfortunate, because calculus is one of humanity’s most impressive achievements, an accomplishment that unlocks the secrets of the universe and delivers our most profound and useful technology, from radio and television to GPS navigation and MRI imaging. Calculus is the main protagonist in the story of science, and is a sub ...more
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, favorites
A Must Read!

This is one of the most beautiful books I have ever had the utmost pleasure to read. How I wish Steven Strogatz had been my calc teacher. There are authors who let you know that they are smart and there are authors who write with a definite intention to make the readers smart. Strogatz falls into the latter category. He will infuse you with such a love for math, no matter what level of math you have reached in your studies. 

Strogatz main message is that calculus extends far beyond wh
India M. Clamp
Jul 01, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: divinity
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-reviews

In Infinite Powers,Dr. Steven H. Strogatz teaches us how to use our microwaves to calculate the speed of light. I’m not kidding. That’s all the recommendation this book needs. Highly Recommended.

Review cross-posted at


When I tell people that I’m an engineer, my wife likes to follow up that comment with, “He does math all day long.” A common response is, “Oh, you must really like math. I didn’t enjoy it in [insert level of schooling here].” To keep the conversation
Jun 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fic
I certainly wish I had read this book while in high school or college. We grilled all the basic technical parts of calculus and yet unsure what was the point. Well certainly you don't need to know it if you do not work in science and research. Life can go on just as well. But being able to appreciate the beauty of it is an added bonus. And then who knows, seeing that beauty could change the path you take in life.

Strogatz takes the same approach with his earlier pop science book, The Joy of x, i.
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mathematics
Time spent in the math world is one of the best ones. I am of a strong opinion that the Universe not only talks in the language of math, the Universe is math. Whether math is the langue of the universe, the universe itself, or just a construct that exist only in a human brain, it's the mysterious thing we've been given helping us to reveal many secrets of the universe and making our lifes improved in so many ways and distinquished on this planet.

Steven Strogatz can obviously write a book about m
Oleksandr Zholud
Mar 01, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is in part intro into calculus for the general public, part – a history of this branch of math, part – unusual current application of calculus, from GPS to drug regiments for HIV-infected to using wavelets to achieve fingerprints for FBI. I read is as a part of monthly reading for February 2021 at Non Fiction Book Club group.

The book starts with famous (in narrow circles of math fans) quip by Richard Feynman that “Calculus is the language God talks.” That was said to the writer Herman Wouk
Rama Rao
Apr 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
This book does not make calculus interesting

Calculus is widely perceived as important part of science in understanding basic laws of physics. But it also has important applications in advanced physics; relativity and quantum mechanics, cosmology, astronomy, biology, chemistry, medicine, geology, ecology and in everyday life. In this book, the author discusses calculus as catch-as-catch-can story in an historical context without giving some ideas of how calculus helped physics to evolve. This is
Al Bità
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For an ordinary layperson, this is perhaps the most accessible history of the development of Calculus one could hope for. In easily readable language Strogatz has provided a fascinating narrative covering the ideas behind Calculus, its history from the earliest Greek mathematicians, its “dismissal” from the formal geometric/mathematical canon for some two thousand years, until its resurgence in the 17th-c with the work of Newton and Leibnitz, and on to its amazingly extensive application to just ...more
Brian Clegg
Jul 05, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I missed this one when it came out, possibly because the cover looks somewhat amateurish. Stephen Strogatz starts by exploring the prehistory of calculus - arguably the most widely applied mathematical tool in physics and engineering. We tend to think of calculus starting with Newton and Leibniz, but there was a long prehistory stretching back to the Ancient Greeks. This involved using methods that might, for instance, mentally cut something up into smaller and smaller pieces, then rearranged th ...more
Athan Tolis
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I need to psyche myself up to do some math for work. And I have a math sherpa and I arranged to meet him so he can take me through the paper I must tackle. But I’m old and only really remember my high school math well, so there is a genuine task at hand here.

So I duck and dive between the paper and my notes from my MSc thesis from at least fifteen years ago and I work out the answer to lesser problems and I write out my questions for my sherpa and I also need to be thinking math the whole time;
Roberto Rigolin F Lopes
A few centuries ago some clever people noticed that nature is in an ever-changing state, notably Galileo (1564-1642) studying objects in free fall and Kepler (1571-1630) studying the motion of planets around our sun. Then Newton (1643-1727) and Leibniz (1646-1716) invented a mathematical tool to get closer and closer to the changing system at hand. Steven did a great job explaining how Calculus uses divide-and-conquer to the extreme taming infinity to describe the universe. It changed civilizati ...more
Feb 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

It is such a pleasure to listen to a mathematician who loves what he's doing. Strogatz brings across the enthusiasm about his topic in a lively, interesting and above all very digestible way. A clear prose and many intuitively accessible examples make this book about the history of calculus approachable to laypersons.

I listened to it on audio - which is admittedly not the best way to consume formulas, even though the narrator did an excellent job - and with 2 exceptions of longer lines
Aug 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Wow! I wish I had had this book back in college 50+ years ago. Who knew calculus could be this interesting to read about. I only endured my class with a boring professor. No joy then, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. All the applications of calculus through the years were fascinating. Amazing stories about the scientists and mathematicians. Very easy to read and understand. I only needed to back up to reread a few paragraphs.
Martynas Petkevičius
Aug 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Infinite Powers won't teach you calculus but it'll gently familiarise you with the subject without oversimplifying it. You'll finish the book wanting to dive into the actual maths. ...more
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010-s, science
"Dividing by zero summons infinity in the same way that a Ouia board supposedly summons spirits from another realm. It's risky. Don't go there." This sentence gives a good idea of the fun and rigor that Steven Strogatz brings to this book that explains what the big deal is to people who, let's face it, are unlikely to learn calculus. "The desire to harness infinity and exploit its power is a narrative thread that runs through the whole twenty-five hundred year story of calculus."

By weaving exam
Jason Furman
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic book about calculus. A blend of the history of the development of calculus, its applications, and intuitive explanations of its power filled with nicely intuitive explanations that will either provide a refresher or a different way of understanding what you have already learned.

Steven Strogatz proceeds in (sort of) chronological order, defining calculus not as what you learn in school but any technique that breaks things apart into infinitesimal pieces and puts them back together aga
Feb 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a delightful excuse to revisit calculus, a subject I loved in school but haven't seen in 20 years. Strogatz did an extraordinary job of making the subject accessible; he has a knack for finding analogies that turn complex mathematical concepts into tangible ideas that are easy to visualize. The book covers the history, function (pun intended), and practical application of calculus, and even dares to imagine the future. Above all, Strogatz succeeds in communicating the extraordinary beauty o ...more
Apr 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The essence of mathematics lies in its beauty and its intellectual challenge. It is a triumph of the imagination. In high schools and universities, we rarely grasp the core ideas in many branches of Mathematics. I thought I understood Euclidean geometry well in school. Much later, I stumbled upon non-Euclidean geometry for the first time. I learnt that Euclid’s fifth axiom - the axiom of parallels - is not a self-evident truth. It is not empirically verifiable. This makes other geometries possib ...more
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Understanding how things move together and how to evaluate seeming disparate data and events are at the core of many of modern life's problems. Steven Strogatz presents a wonderful history of the methodology of those techniques that are embodied in Calculus in a very readable fashion.

He does two things which the non-math person should appreciate. First, he presents a good history of the development of thinking about advanced math. From Xeno's paradox (which stipulates it is impossible to get any
Nov 20, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[20 Nov 2021]
When I was in high school -- many, many years ago -- I was really good at math, so when I got to college I thought I would major in math. However, after two semesters of calculus I changed my mind. I didn't flunk. Got Bs both semesters. Because I was able to regurgitate the calculations correctly. But I didn't really understand. I didn't get it in my soul the way I understood algebra. So I changed to French, an easy major.

My professor was really smart. He had worked at NASA during
Dec 28, 2020 marked it as to-read
Shelves: technical
Got it because Hannah Fry jumped with joy while reading it. I liked it overall, but at times it felt a bit lengthy. More aimed at people who haven't read much history of maths I think.

The book tells the story of how the central ideas from calculus developed; beginning with Archimedes who approximated the surface area of a circle by covering it with an infinite series of smaller and smaller triangles; and ending with GPS and CT scanners.

Strogatz retelling revolves around the "Infinity principle"
May 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"How could we, Homo sapiens, an insignificant species on an insignificant planet adrift in a middleweight galaxy, have managed to predict how space and time would tremble after two black holes collided in the vastness of the universe a billion light-years away? We knew what that wave should sound like before it got here. And, courtesy of calculus, computers, and Einstein, we were right.

That gravitational wave was the faintest whisper ever heard. That soft little wave had been headed our way from
Aug 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I wish calculus is taught like this in schools! You are able to connect to the subject at a fundamental level and internalize the core concepts really well! It's just beautiful the way the concepts are unraveled. Although the last couple of chapters go over the top for my liking, overall, it's a must read and such a fun way to go back to school :) ...more
Madeline Feldner
Aug 09, 2022 rated it it was amazing
ok guys because i got clowned for actually buying the book i finished it and it was actually good. it was really nice but like why does math always work tho like calculus really do be the way God talks this book was lowkey spiritualll🥲🫶
Mengsen Zhang
Jun 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing

I usually reserve 5-star ratings for books that are, say, ecstatic---this book is not that. But I must appreciate the effort put into writing such a remarkably accessible book to general readers about math. It could easily have been boring or forbidding. Strogatz got it to work.

As someone who uses calculus regularly for work, I'm unlikely to be in the target audience. Most people I know who work in a field professionally find it difficult to pick up a popular science book in a related field. B

Yvo Hunink
Aug 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If I had only read this book before I got calculus in university. I would have maybe actually understood what I was doing. I advise anyone that is doing, or will do, calculus, to use this book as a great additional reading that will probably save you some hours in the end. I got this lovely book from my dear friend Kristina, thanks!

Calculus is just not a set of mathematical tricks we use to calculate stuff. The unfolding of proofs, the building on concepts and the progression of the logics of ch
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Science and Inquiry: October 2021 - Infinite Powers 19 98 Nov 21, 2021 09:51PM  
Non Fiction Book ...: Feb/March 2021 - Infinite Powers 23 56 Mar 27, 2021 12:18AM  
Joyce's Reading Log: Infinite Powers by Steven Strogatz 1 2 Feb 19, 2021 08:03PM  
Science Book Club: Infinite Powers 3 25 Jun 29, 2019 07:54AM  

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Steven Strogatz is the Schurman Professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University. A renowned teacher and one of the world’s most highly cited mathematicians, he has been a frequent guest on National Public Radio’s Radiolab. Among his honors are MIT's highest teaching prize, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a lifetime achievement award for communication of math to ...more

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