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What Is a Number?

Paperback
, 320 pages

19 halftones, 65 line drawings

ISBN:
9780801890185
December 2008
$32.50

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What Is a Number?

Mathematical Concepts and Their Origins

2009 Outstanding Academic Title, Choice

Mathematics often seems incomprehensible, a melee of strange symbols thrown down on a page. But while formulae, theorems, and proofs can involve highly complex concepts, the math becomes transparent when viewed as part of a bigger picture. What Is a Number? provides that picture.

Robert Tubbs examines how mathematical concepts like number, geometric truth, infinity, and proof have been employed by artists, theologians, philosophers, writers, and cosmologists from ancient times to the modern era. Looking at a broad range of topics—from Pythagoras’s exploration of the connection between harmonious sounds and mathematical ratios to the understanding of time in both Western and pre-Columbian thought—Tubbs ties together seemingly disparate ideas to demonstrate the relationship between the sometimes elusive thought of artists and philosophers and the concrete logic of mathematicians. He complements his textual arguments with diagrams and illustrations.

This historic and thematic study refutes the received wisdom that mathematical concepts are esoteric and divorced from other intellectual pursuits—revealing them instead as dynamic and intrinsic to almost every human endeavor.

Robert Tubbs is an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the coauthor of Making Transcendence Transparent: An Intuitive Approach to Classical Transcendental Number Theory.

"A very unusual book!... Every chapter offers a refreshing wealth of surprising connections, gently nudging readers to expand and assimilate their growing understanding of mathematics and its role in society... Highly recommended."

"I recommend this book for teachers and college students interested in the role mathematics play in answering the big 'Whys?' of life."

"A beautiful narration... Every chapter is well balanced between the mathematical side and the art side."

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