Jimmy Ele's Reviews > A History of Pi

A History of Pi by Petr Beckmann
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it was amazing
bookshelves: definite-up-nexts
Read 2 times. Last read June 24, 2017 to July 12, 2017.

Brilliantly outlined history of pi, but just like Charles Seife's "Zero The Biography of a Dangerous Idea", I am left wanting more. I want the Chinese, Mayan, and Indian history of pi. The Mayan history of pi was most likely burned by that one bishop, but the Chinese and Indian history I believe to be still in existence. Other than that, it was a thoroughly engrossing read and definitely nice to have read for my continuing Mathematics education.
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Quotes Jimmy Liked

“If we do not require a calendar to be geared to a tropical year (earth's orbit), but only that it be geared to some part of the celestial clock, then the Maya calendar was more accurate than the Julian calendar, more accurate than the Babylonian (solar-lunar) calendar; it intermeshed the "gear wheels" of Sun, Moon and Venus, and was based on a more accurate "gear ratio" than the other calendars, repeating itself only once in 52 years.”
Petr Beckmann, A History of π

“Aristotle, we are invariably told, was "antiquity's most brilliant intellect," and the explanation of this weird assertion, I believe, is best summarized in Anatole France's words: The books that everybody admires are the books that nobody reads. But on taking the trouble to delve in Aristotle's writings, a somewhat different picture emerges. His ignorance of mathematics and physics, compared to the Greeks of his time, far surpasses the ignorance exhibited by this tireless and tiresome writer in the many subjects that he felt himself called upon to discuss.”
Petr Beckmann, A History of π

“Rome was not the first state of organized gangsterdom, nor was it the last; but it was the only one that managed to bamboozle posterity into an almost universal admiration. Few rational men admire the Huns, the Nazis or the Soviets; but for centuries, schoolboys have been expected to read Julius Caesar's militaristic drivel ("We inflicted heavy losses upon the enemy, our own casualties being very light") and Cato's revolting incitements to war. They have been led to believe that the Romans had attained an advanced level in the sciences, the arts, law, architecture, engineering and everything else. It is my opinion that the alleged Roman achievements are largely a myth; and I feel it is time for this myth to be debunked a little. What the Romans excelled in was bullying, bludgeoning, butchering and blood baths. Like the Soviet Empire, the Roman Empire enslaved peoples whose cultural level was far above their own. They not only ruthlessly vandalized their countries, but they also looted them, stealing their art treasures, abducting their scientists and copying their technical know-how, which the Romans' barren society was rarely able to improve on. No wonder, then, that Rome was filled with great works of art. But the light of culture which Rome is supposed to have emanated was a borrowed light: borrowed from the Greeks and the other peoples that the Roman militarists had enslaved.”
Petr Beckmann, A History of π

“Then there is Roman engineering: the Roman roads, aqueducts, the Colosseum. Warfare, alas, has always been beneficial to engineering. Yet there are unmistakeable trends in the engineering of the gamgster states. In a healthy society, engineering design gets smarter and smarter; in gangster states, it gets bigger and bigger. In World War II, the democracies produced radar and split the atom; German basic research was far behind in these fields and devoted its efforts to projects like lenses so bog they could burn Britain, and bells so big that their sound would be lethal. (The lenses never got off the drawing board, and the bells, by the end of the war, would kill mice in a bath tub.) Roman engineering, too, was void of all subtlety. Roman roads ran absolutely straight; when they came to a mountain, they ran over the top of the mountain as pigheadedly as one of Stalin's frontal assaults. Greek soldiers used to adapt their camps to the terrain; but the Roman army, at the end of a days' march, would invariably set up exactly the same camp, no matter whether in the Alps or in Egypt. If the terrain did not correspond to the one and only model decreed by the military bureaucracy, so much the worse for the terrain; it was dug up until it fitted inti the Roman Empire. The Roman aqueducts were bigger than those that had been used centuries earlier in the ancient world; but they were administered with extremely poor knowledge of hydraulics. Long after Heron of Alexandria (1st Century A.D.) had designed water clocks, water turbines and two-cylinder water pumps, and had written works on these subjects, the Romans were still describing the performance of their aqueducts in terms of the quinaria, a measure of the cross-section of the flow, as if the volume of the flow did not also depend on its velocity. The same unit was used in charging users of large pipes tapping the aqueduct; the Roman engineers failed to realize that doubling the cross-section would more than double the flow of water. Heron could never have blundered like this.”
Petr Beckmann, A History of π

“The architecture of the thugs also differs from that of normal societies. It can often be recognized by the megalomaniacal style of their public buildings and facilities. The Moscow subway is a faithful copy of the London Underground, except that its stations and corridors are filled with statues of homo sovieticus, a fictitious species that stands (or sits on a tractor), chin up, chest out, belly in, heroically gazing into the distance with a look of grim determination. The Romans had similar tastes. Their public latrines were lavishly decorated with mosaics and marbles. When a particularly elaborately decorated structure at Puteoli was dug up by archaeologists in the last century, they thought at first that they had discovered a temple; but it turned out to be a public latrine.”
Petr Beckmann, A History of π

“The architecture of the Colisseum and other places of Roman entertainment are difficult to judge without recalling what purpose they served. It was here that gladiators fought to the death; that prisoners of war, convicts and Christians were devoured by as many as 5,000 wild beasts at a time; and that voctims were crucified or burned alive for the entertainment of Roman civilization. When the Romans screamed for ever more blood, artificial lakes were dug and naval battles of as many as 19,000 gladiators were staged until the water turned red with blood. The only emperors who did not throw Christians to the lions were the Christian emperors: They threw pagans to the lions with the same gusto and for the same crime-having a different religion.”
Petr Beckmann, A History of π

“The Romans' contribution to science was mostly limited to butchering antiquity's greatest mathematician, burning the Library of Alexandria, and slowly stifling the sciences that flourished in the colonies of their Empire.”
Petr Beckmann, A History of π

“Scientific works and entire libraries were set to torch kindled by the insane religious fanatics. We have already mentioned the Bishop of Yucatan, who burned the entire native literature of the Maya in the 1560's, and Bishop Theophilus, who destroyed much of the remnants of the Library of Alexandria (391). The Christian Roman emperor Valens ordered the burning of non-Christian books in 373. In 1109, the crusaders captured Tripoli, and after the usual orgy of butchery typifying the crusades (through this one did not yet include the murderous Teutonic Knights), they burned over 100,000 books of Muslim learning. In 1204, the fourth crusade captured Constantinople and sacked it with horrors unparalleled even in the bloody age of the crusades; the classical works that had survived until then were put to the torch by crusaders in what is generally considered the biggest single loss to classical literature. In the early 15th century, Cardinal Ximenes (Jimenez), who succeeded Torquemada as Grand Inquisitor and was directly responsible for the cruel deaths of 2,500 persons, had a haul of 24,000 books burned at Granada.”
Petr Beckman, A History of Pi

“In 1486, Torquemada sentenced the Spanish mathematician Valmes to be burned at the stake because Valmes had claimed to have found the solution of the quartic equation. It was the will of God, maintained the Grand Inquisitor of the Holy Office of the Inquisition Against Heretical Depravity, that such a solution was inaccessible to human understanding.”
Petr Beckman, A History of Pi

“Not only scientific theory was condemned as the work of the devil. The devil also seems to have known a lot more about navigation than the bloodthirsty Men of God. Many (perhaps most) ships sailing the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages had Jewish navigators, for the Christian captains and crews were not supposed to meddle with the devilish science of mathematics. In the 10th century, Raud the Strong, a Viking chieftain, escaped the fanatical Christianizing king of Norway Olaf Trygvasson by sailing into the wind (i.e., maintaining a zig-zag course whose average advances against the wind); the pious king, who was better acquainted with witchcraft than with the triangle of forces, thereupon accused Raud of being in alliance with the devil, and when he finally caught him, he had him killed by stuffing a viper down his throat.”
Petr Beckman, A History of Pi

“Such was the ugly face of the Middle Ages. It is not surprising that mathematics made little progress; toward the Renaissance, European mathematics reached a level that, roughly, the Babylonians had attained some 2,000 years earlier and much of the progress made was due to the knowledge that filtered in from the Arabs, the Moors and other Muslim peoples, who themselves were in contact with the Hindus, and they, in turn, with the Far East.

The history of Pi in the Middle Ages bears this out. No significant progress in the method of determining Pi was made until Viete discovered an infinite product of square roots in 1593, and what little progress there was in the calculation of its numerical value, by various modifications of the Archimedean method, was due to the decimal notation which began to infiltrate from the East through the Muslims in the 12th century.

Arab mathematicians came to Europe through the trade in the Mediterranean, mainly via Italy; ironically, the other stream of mathematics was the Church itself. Not only because the mediaeval priests had a near monopoly of learning, but also because they needed mathematics and astronomy as custodians of the calendar. Like the Soviet High Priests who publish Pravda for other but read summaries of the New York Times themselves, sot he mediaeval Church condemned mathematics as devilish for others, but dabbled quite a lot in it itself. Gerbert d'Aurillac, who ruled as Pope Sylvester II from 999 to 1003, was quite a mathematician; so was Cardinal Nicolaus Cusanus (1401-1464); and much of the work done on Pi was done behind thick cloister walls. And just like the Soviets did not hesitate to spy on the atomic secrets of bourgeois pseudo-science, so the mediaeval Church did not hesitate to spy on the mathematics of the Muslim infidels.”
Petr Beckman, A History of Pi

“Adelard of Bath (ca. 1075-1160) disguised himself as a Muslim and studied at Cordoba; he translated Euclid's Elements from the Arabic translation into Latin, and Ptolemy's Almagest from Greek into Latin. When Alfonso VI of Castile captured Toledo from the Moors in 1085, he did not burn their libraries, containing a wealth of Muslim manuscripts. Under the encouragement of the Archbishop of Toledo, a veritable intelligence evaluation center was set up. A large number of translators, the best known of whom was Gerard of Cremona (1114-1187), translated from Arabic, Greek and Hebrew into Latin, at last acquainting Europe not only with classical Greek mathematics, but also with contemporary Arab algebra, trigonometry and astronomy. Before the Toledo leak opened, mediaeval Europe did not have a mathematician who was not a Moor, Greek or a Jew.”
Petr Beckman, A History of Pi

“The history of pi is only a small part of the history of mathematics, which itself is but a mirror of the history of man. That history is full of patterns and tendencies whose frequency and similarity is too striking to be dismissed as accidental. Like the laws of quantum mechanics, and in the final analysis, of all nature, the laws of history are evidently statistical in character. But what those laws are, nobody knows. Only a few scraps are evident. And of these is that the Heisels of Cleveland are more numerous than the Archimedes of Syracuse.”
Petr Beckmann, A History of π

Reading Progress

Finished Reading
July 28, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read (Paperback Edition)
July 28, 2016 – Shelved (Paperback Edition)
July 28, 2016 – Shelved as: focused (Paperback Edition)
July 28, 2016 – Shelved as: mathematics (Paperback Edition)
August 14, 2016 – Shelved as: 1123581321345589 (Paperback Edition)
May 9, 2017 – Shelved
May 9, 2017 – Shelved as: definite-up-nexts
May 9, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
June 24, 2017 – Started Reading
June 24, 2017 –
page 16
June 26, 2017 –
page 45
June 29, 2017 –
page 73
July 7, 2017 –
page 134
July 12, 2017 –
page 166
July 12, 2017 –
page 173
July 12, 2017 – Finished Reading

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