Deana's Reviews > Why Beauty Is Truth: A History of Symmetry

Why Beauty Is Truth by Ian Stewart
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's review
Jul 05, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: nonfiction, 2010, read-owned
Recommended to Deana by: mom!
Recommended for: Anyone interested in the history of mathematics and physics, without getting tooooo mathy.
Read from July 18 to August 30, 2010 — I own a copy

I really enjoyed the first half of this book. Ian Stewart is great at telling entertaining stories and getting me interested in mathematics, even without bringing up explicit equations or going too in depth. He gives the general ideas, just enough so you understand the concept, without going over our heads. And he's good at relating them to real world problems and examples, too.

During the second half of the book, though, the concepts quickly become more and more difficult to understand, even with his basic explanations. I found myself not fully understanding what he was talking about, but forcing myself to go on anyway. Sometimes things become clear, sometimes not. But it usually didn't prevent me from understanding just enough to move on.

One of my favorite parts of the book is learning more about the personal lives of the mathematicians and physicists - being able to look at them more like normal people, rather than socially awkward geniuses who just sit around and do math all day.

My biggest complaint is that it doesn't really answer the question posed in the title. While it does focus on symmetry as being the thing that ties mathematics and physics concepts together throughout the book (though not the type of symmetry we learn in school, but a more general version)... and he -does- emphasize over and over again that the things that have turned out to be correct generally turn out to be more "beautiful" (in a mathematical sense) than the incorrect answers... so when they discover a really ugly solution to a problem, they suspect it is incorrect (and have usually been correct). Very interesting. But it doesn't explain WHY this is true.

Overall interesting book, but definitely not for everyone!

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07/18/2010 page 33
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