Saturday, June 20, 2015

Book Review: The Archimedes Codex

I bought this book because I wanted to understand more about Archimedes' role in the ancient development of calculus ideas. When I got it, I was worried it would be another book I wouldn't want to wade through. I was so wrong!

The Archimedes Codex, by Reviel Netz and William Noel, is fascinating. Like much good science writing these days, The Archimedes Codex reads like a detective story. It is gripping! Netz writes chapters about Archimedes, his math, and translation issues. Noel writes chapters about the travels of the manuscript, and the attempts to use modern technology to get better images of Archimedes' writing.

In 1998 Christie's auctioned off this battered medieval manuscript which on its face was a prayer book, but also contained traces underneath of Archimedes' work, which had been scraped off. It sold for two million dollars to an anonymous bidder. William Noel, of the Walters Art Museum in Boston, followed the story and emailed the agent of the buyer. The buyer agreed to work with the museum to attempt restoration of the manuscript. Most experts expected little from the work, since the manuscript was in such bad condition. But the project, which took years, brought to light previously unknown work by Archimedes.

Archimedes had explored the idea of infinity more carefully than had ever been realized. He also did work in combinatorics, which no one had even suspected. The math is pretty easy to follow, and it's amazing. I've dogeared about a dozen pages, so I can read passages to my calculus students.

This is perfect summer reading. Enjoy!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Imbalance Abundance Puzzles (We're in the New York Times!!)

Paul Salomon posted some delightful puzzles a few years back, I got in touch with him about including them in the book, and now his puzzles are featured in the New york Times' Numberplay column!

I met Gary Antonick (who writes Numberplay) in person a month or two ago at a lovely meeting of math popularizers. We were both excited to meet each other*, and he asked if he could share some of the book's material in his column. Of course I said yes.

I knew the column was coming today, but forgot to look until I saw Mike South's Facebook post mentioning it. Mike writes great math explanations on Living Math Forum, but doesn't blog. I wanted to include something of his in the book, but didn't manage it. (Here's Mike on thinking about zero.)

Gary included a great photo that goes so well with the puzzles, I want to make up a new puzzle to go with it. Hmm.

If you don't already have your own copy of Playing with Math: Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and Passionate Teachers, you can buy one here.

*I finally got to meet the fabulous Fawn Nguyen in person, too! What an exciting day that was!
Math Blog Directory