Why Beauty Is Truth: A History of Symmetry

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Basic Books, Apr 29, 2008 - Mathematics - 304 pages
7 Reviews
At the heart of relativity theory, quantum mechanics, string theory, and much of modern cosmology lies one concept: symmetry. In Why Beauty Is Truth, world-famous mathematician Ian Stewart narrates the history of the emergence of this remarkable area of study. Stewart introduces us to such characters as the Renaissance Italian genius, rogue, scholar, and gambler Girolamo Cardano, who stole the modern method of solving cubic equations and published it in the first important book on algebra, and the young revolutionary Evariste Galois, who refashioned the whole of mathematics and founded the field of group theory only to die in a pointless duel over a woman before his work was published. Stewart also explores the strange numerology of real mathematics, in which particular numbers have unique and unpredictable properties related to symmetry. He shows how Wilhelm Killing discovered “Lie groups” with 14, 52, 78, 133, and 248 dimensions-groups whose very existence is a profound puzzle. Finally, Stewart describes the world beyond superstrings: the “octonionic” symmetries that may explain the very existence of the universe.
 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - dcunning11235 - LibraryThing

This was, as advertised, a history of symmetry; I feel that I did not get a good understanding for what exactly symmetry is, in a more advanced sense, however, which is partially what I was after ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Cheryl_in_CC_NV - LibraryThing

The author messed up. He frets aloud about giving us lay-readers too much math, and still apparently didn't get a layperson to edit it for him. He avoids giving us equations, choosing instead to ... Read full review

Contents

The Scribes of Babylon
1
The Household Name
17
The Persian Poet
33
The Gambling Scholar
45
The Cunning Fox
63
The Frustrated Doctor and the Sickly Genius
75
The Luckless Revolutionary
97
The Mediocre Engineer and the Transcendent Professor
125
The WouldBe Soldier and the Weakly Bookworm
159
The Clerk from the Patent Office
173
A Quantum Quintet
199
The FiveDimensional Man
221
The Political Journalist
243
A Muddle of Mathematicians
259
Seekers after Truth and Beauty
275
Further Reading
281

The Drunken Vandal
137

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About the author (2008)

Ian Stewart is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick and is well known for his writing and broadcasting about mathematics for nonspecialists. He has written over 140 research papers on such subjects as symmetry in dynamics, pattern formation, chaos, and mathematical biology, as well as numerous popular books, including Letters to a Young Mathematician, Does God Play Dice?, What Shape Is a Snowflake?, Nature’s Numbers, The Annotated Flatland, and Flatterland. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2001. He lives in Coventry, England.

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