What is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, 1996 - Mathematics - 566 pages
32 Reviews
For more than two thousand years a familiarity with mathematics has been regarded as an indispensable part of the intellectual equipment of every cultured person. Today, unfortunately, the traditional place of mathematics in education is in grave danger. The teaching and learning of mathematics has degenerated into the realm of rote memorization, the outcome of which leads to satisfactory formal ability but does not lead to real understanding or to greater intellectual independence. This new edition of Richard Courant's and Herbert Robbins's classic work seeks to address this problem. Its goal is to put the meaning back into mathematics.

Written for beginners and scholars, for students and teachers, for philosophers and engineers, What is Mathematics?, Second Edition is a sparkling collection of mathematical gems that offers an entertaining and accessible portrait of the mathematical world. Covering everything from natural numbers and the number system to geometrical constructions and projective geometry, from topology and calculus to matters of principle and the Continuum Hypothesis, this fascinating survey allows readers to delve into mathematics as an organic whole rather than an empty drill in problem solving. With chapters largely independent of one another and sections that lead upward from basic to more advanced discussions, readers can easily pick and choose areas of particular interest without impairing their understanding of subsequent parts.

Brought up to date with a new chapter by Ian Stewart, What is Mathematics?, Second Edition offers new insights into recent mathematical developments and describes proofs of the Four-Color Theorem and Fermat's Last Theorem, problems that were still open when Courant and Robbins wrote this masterpiece, but ones that have since been solved.

Formal mathematics is like spelling and grammar--a matter of the correct application of local rules. Meaningful mathematics is like journalism--it tells an interesting story. But unlike some journalism, the story has to be true. The best mathematics is like literature--it brings a story to life before your eyes and involves you in it, intellectually and emotionally. What is Mathematics is like a fine piece of literature--it opens a window onto the world of mathematics for anyone interested to view.
  

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Review: What Is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods

User Review  - Ron Banister - Goodreads

One of my favorite books on mathematics. Also, one of Einstein's favorites. Read full review

Review: What Is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods

User Review  - D - Goodreads

"The difficulty is that it is easy to prove a problem is easy, but hard to prove that it is hard!" I'm probably not unique in that I made it through a lot of math without ever really understanding ... Read full review

Contents

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Page 1 - A serious threat to the very life of science is implied in the assertion that mathematics is nothing but a system of conclusions drawn from definitions and postulates that must be consistent but otherwise may be created by the free will of the mathematician. If this description were accurate, mathematics could not attract any intelligent person. It would be a game with definitions, rules, and syllogisms, without motive or goal.
Page 1 - True, the element of constructive invention, of directing and motivating intuition, is apt to elude a simple philosophical formulation ; but it remains the core of any mathematical achievement, even in the most abstract fields.

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About the author (1996)


The late Richard Courant, headed the Department of Mathematicas at New York University and was Director of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences--which has subsequently renamed the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. His book Mathematical Physics is familiar to every physicist, and his book Differential and Integral Calculus is acknowledged to be one of the best presentations of the subject written in modern times. Herbert Robbins is New Jersey Professor of Mathematical Statistics at Rutgers University. Ian Stewart is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick, and author of Nature's Numbers and Does God Play Dice?. He also writes the "Mathematical Recreations" column in Scientific American.

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