Book: Prelude to Mathematics by W.W. Sawyer

Some people would probably like it, but I don't know who they might be

W. W. Sawyer
Prelude to Mathematics
Dover, 1982
ISBN: 0-486-24401-6
219 pages

Abandoned on page 68.

Despite giving up on it a third of the way through, I wouldn't say that Prelude to Mathematics is a bad book. But the problem it has shows up right in its title. I mean, what does "Prelude to Mathematics" mean? Is it meant to suggest that you should read the book before deciding to become a mathematician? Or that you should read some of it, Red-Bull-wise, before a particularly hefty bout of differentiation? The problem continues in the text of the book; it's not clear who the intended audience is or (what's really the same thing) for what purpose it was written. I suspect that if you're the sort of person for whom the book was written, you'd like it a lot. But I really have no idea who that might be.

I'm no mathematician, but I am a geek and no stranger to the sorts of math that programmers deal with. I struggled, but got through two quarters of college calculus and I know enough to find Jonathan Coulton's song "Mandelbrot Set" hilarious. That should give me at least the "confused recollection of School Certificate mathematics" that Mr Sawyer says you might need in order to make sense of the book. In addition, I'm quite willing to find math interesting. I enjoyed Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science very much.

The book is well written, in a clear and plain style. It is, however, rather dense. As with the mathematics Mr Sawyer describes, there's hardly anything unnecessary said. Inside this slim volume is a pretty long book.

Perhaps the best favor I can do to for someone reading this is to give an extract that gives the flavor of the book:

    At the end of Chapter 2 mention was made of a very remarkable
    example of unification, a single function which contained in itself
    very nearly every function that had previously been studied.

    There are many different viewpoints from which the hyper-
    geometric function can be regarded. Here we can discuss only
    one of these viewpoints -- not the most instructive, but the one
    most capable of being shortly described -- the hypergeometric
    function as represented by a series. (p. 61)

If that sounds interesting to you, I suspect that the book will be. It didn't do much for me.

Posted: Tue - May 24, 2005 at 08:20   Main   Category: