Monday, May 06, 2013

Non-Fiction: Visions of Infinity by Ian Stewart

Almost from the beginning, I had a problem with Visions of Infinity (Basic Books), mathematics professor Ian Stewart’s love letter to advanced thinking.

The title begs the reader to embrace the inevitability of an endless line of questions looking for answers. But it was the subtitle that, for me, presented the largest hurdle: “The Great Mathematical Problems,” is what it says which, in the end, only goes to confirms Stewart’s infinite visions.

“Mathematics is a vast, ever-growing, ever-changing subject,” Stewart warns in his preface. Because of this, Stewart says a little later, “A basic aim of mathematics is to uncover the underlying simplicity of apparently complicated questions.”

Simplicity or no, those without a solid grounding in and appreciation for higher mathematics probably won’t get as much as they could from Visions of Infinity. This isn’t armchair maths, nor is Stewart meant to be a sort of Alain de Botton for math enthusiasts.

“Mathematic research is like exploring a new continent,” Stewart says, then explains what he means. If you love maths and would like to know more about the inner workings of a mathlete’s mind, you’ll want Visions of Infinity at the top of your reading pile. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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