Friday, April 15, 2016

Unknown Quantity

Do you like math? No? Chances are, I've already scared you off. For those of you who are still here, I've got a treat for you: John Derbyshire's Unknown Quantity. It's a history book, but about algebra.

Well, there go the rest of you. Now nobody is reading this. Ah, well. I thought it was a good book. It's funny, and informative, and did a swell job of keeping me interested throughout the entire thing. There's not that much else to say about it, because it's literally what it says on the cover. It's a history of algebra.

Well, I suppose it would be a good idea to explain what Derbyshire means by "algebra." Algebra isn't just using symbols like X and Y to stand for variables. At it's heart, algebra is using abstraction to make things easier. As you can imagine, this broad definition encompasses a lot. That's what makes it cool, because you can see the logical progression of ideas over hundreds of years into what algebra is today.

I'd say this is more on the math side than the history side, although it's got a lot of both. You spend quite some time learning about the characters behind the equations and ideas, which I like. Basically, if you are interested in the history of math, or in learning how the dingus people ever came up with this crazy math stuff, then this book is for you.

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