Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mathematicians are People, too

Title : Mathematicians are People, too - Vol 1
Authors : Luetta Reimer and Wilbert Reimer
Publisher : Dale Seymour Publications
Ages : 10 +

What makes the stories of great achievers interesting to hear or read ? If  the stories focussed only on the subject matter of expertise, will it get everyone's attention ? What if we learn that  the achievers were as human as you or me, dealing with their own challenges, frustrations and societal pressure of their times ? May be that's when we corelate to them better as  fellow human beings and they become an inspiration to humanity, irrespective of the field they specialised in.

This is exactly how the book, Mathematicians are people too, touches us as we feel the pain and pleasure of the Math stalwarts over centuries and across continents. The book focusses on the lives of  well known mathematicians like Pythagoras, Archimedes, Pascal as well as on the genuises who are lesser know to common people like - Joseph Lagrange, Sophie Germain, Hypatia and so on.

In the earliest times, dating back to the time of Thales, Pythagoras and Archimedes, we see that while they were well recognised and held in awe by one group for their intelligence and mind boggling explanations  of natural phenomenons, there were equal number of skeptics who feared that they were out to upset the political and religious order of their times. For Archimedes and Pythagoras, the enemies won in the end and they were tragically killed, but their inventions and formula were to leave an indelible mark in the field of mathematics and science. How can we think of our high school geometry without the Pythagoras theorem ?!

It is very interesting to read the biographies of  the great women mathematicians - Hypatia, Sophie Germain and Emmy Noether. Hypatia, a Greek scholar who lived around 400 A.D, was greatly encouraged by her  father as he noticed her unusual intelligence even at a young age. By the time she was a young woman, she was brilliant in Mathematics, had travelled a lot and studied a lot of other cultures. We learn that while there were no challenges to her learning and growth as a mathematician, she was caught up in some political turmoil of that time and again brutally murdered.

Sophie and Emmy, belonged to a later period (18th and 19th century respectively) and faced a lot of gender discrimination. Right from their  homes to universities, they were told that their place was rightly in the kitchen and not in the field of Mathematics. But these wonderful women braved the discrimination at all places, fought the established norms, found innovative ways to get their discoveries recognised and finally earned every honour that rightfully came their way. It is interesting to read that Sophie shared some brilliant ideas and thoughts on Number Theory through letter correspondence with German Mathematician Carl Gauss, under a male pseudonym, because she thought that she would not be taken seriously if she corresponded under her own name !!

Ofcourse, one mathematician whose story I eagerly wanted to read was Srinivasa Ramanujan. My only grouse is that in the one page illustration, accompanying his biography, the background scene is so typical of a North Indian village (based on the dress code), whereas knowing that he is from a town in Tamil Nadu (South India), we know that the back drop has to be definitely different. Minor nuances, but still I wish that they had got it right.

The book takes us through the lives of fifteen mathematician totally and each one is an absorbing read. There is also a Vol 2 of this series. So whether you love Mathematics or not, do pick up this book for the inspiration that each person is.

Pic Source : Amazon


Choxbox said...

Sounds very interesting R! Wish we had a library we could access these books from..

the mad momma said...

Actually its hardly a minor nuance. I'd rather not read about someone than get the wrong picture. Wonderful read. Am looking forward to picking it up.

Anuradha Shankar said...

sounds really interesting... really wish we had a library we could borrow these from!!

Sheela said...

Sounds interesting, Ranjani, and happy to see Ramanujan featured there (despite the faux pas).

We just read a picture book about about Hypatia...

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