A Concise History of Mathematics

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews A Concise History of Mathematics by Dirk J Struik:

Dirk J Struik's A Concise History of Mathematics


This volume delivers on its promise: an efficient, digestible history of mathematics up to (but excluding) the 20th century. The focus is unsurprisingly on the Western world. Although there are efforts (expanded in this 1967 revised edition) to take non-European mathematics into account in the sections on ancient and medieval periods, there is no recognition of any accomplishments outside of Europe in the modern era.

Since the book is rather short, it is prudently supported with a considerable bibliographic apparatus. A general bibliography constitutes the bulk of the introduction, and a more topical bibliography is appended to each of the eight chronological chapters. A full index of names helps make the volume useful for reference.

I have not had any formal study of mathematics since my undergraduate days, although I like to challenge myself periodically by reading math books that exceed my training. This one actually qualifies. Although it is primarily a history book, it constantly alludes to mathematical topics far in advance of what an accomplished college freshman calculus student is likely to have encountered. Even so, the book remained intelligible to me for the most part.

Author Struik goes some way toward offering ideas about how social and political circumstances impacted the development of mathematical ideas and techniques. He also remarks historical parallels in particular schools and periods of activity. The prose is fairly dry, but an effort is made to communicate the personalities of key mathematicians.

This read has sufficiently stoked my mathematical enthusiasm that I will be reading some actual math texts quite soon. [via]



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