Reviews for In Pursuit of the Unknown : 17 Equations That Changed the World

Book News Reviews
For general readers of science and technology titles, this engaging work on the meaning and impact of mathematical equations examines seventeen of the most important equations in history and explores not only the science behind the specific formulas, but also the wide influence of these germinal ideas on modern technologies and scientific study. Covering popular equations such as the Pythagorean theorem and Relativity, as well as more obscure and advanced topics, the work provides an entertaining journey through the development of theoretical mathematics, as well as an informative look at applied science. Numerous tables, graphs, and illustrations are provided throughout. Stewart is professor emeritus of mathematics at Warwick University. Annotation ©2012 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Choice Reviews 2012 September
Stewart's well-deserved reputation as a popularizer of mathematics and science is brilliantly upheld in this intriguing book. As the title suggests, each chapter explores an equation, but the power of the presentation comes with his clarifications regarding what each equation addresses, why it is important, and what it has led to. The goal of Stewart (emer., Univ. of Warwick, UK) is not to explain how the equations are derived, but rather their impact. Comfortably familiar topics in the earlier chapters like the Pythagorean theorem or the definition of the derivative still contain surprising historical insights and some unexpected connections. There is a certain charm to linking Newton's law of gravity to the Hubble telescope or global positioning systems, or relating Euler's formula of polyhedra to enzymes acting on DNA and the chaotic motion of celestial bodies. As the book moves into entropy, relativity, and information theory, the reader will certainly find some challenging content, yet the discussions are still approachable and thought provoking. The mix of mathematics, science, statistics, and economics speaks well of the broad spectrum of areas that Stewart covers without bogging down the reader in tedious derivations. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and general readers. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates. N. W. Schillow Lehigh Carbon Community College Copyright 2012 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 February #1
Stewart (Mathematics Emeritus/Warwick Univ.; The Mathematics of Life, 2011, etc.) unravels the secret history of equations that "have been pulling the strings of society, [t]ucked away behind the scenes." The author shows how mathematics has played a crucial role in the "ascent of humanity," but were merely steps in the technological advances that followed. He begins with Pythagoras' Theorem, the essence of which was discovered thousands of years before and laid the basis for navigation and astronomy. He ends with the Black-Scholes Equation, the mathematical formula that created the possibility for computerized derivatives trading and arguably the recent economic meltdown, and urges the need for more regulation of financial markets. Stewart provides clear, cogent explanations of how the equations work without burdening the reader with cumbersome derivations. Instead, he uses them to elaborate his thesis that mathematics, despite its pivotal influence, does not in itself change the world. He gives a fascinating explanation of how Newton's laws, when extended to three-body problems, are still used by NASA to calculate the best route from Earth to Mars and have laid the basis for chaos theory. Throughout, Stewart's style is felicitous and mostly accessible. While the early chapters of the book, which cover trigonometry, calculus and statistics, offer an excellent introduction, the late chapters, which cover quantum, information and chaos theory, require more scientific background to be fully understood. A readable but not simple mathematical guidebook to the labyrinth of mathematics. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 April #2

In this new work, Stewart (mathematics, emeritus, Univ. of Warwick, UK; The Mathematics of Life) reviews 17 equations from the Pythagorean theorem of ancient times to the Black-Scholes formula of the late 20th century, including Newton's law of gravity and Einstein's theory of relativity in between. He explains the origins of each equation and its initial uses and then goes on to describe ensuing development and newer applications. Stewart's expertise and his well-developed style (enhanced by a nice sense of humor) make for enjoyable reading. Although readers with an already established background in mathematics and its functions will benefit the most, others will find much to enjoy. In some of the chapters, Stewart's treatment of historical origins seems a bit perfunctory. VERDICT Overall, a worthwhile and entertaining book, accessible to all readers. Recommended for anyone interested in the influence of mathematics on the development of science and on the emergence of our current technology-driven society.--Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 January #3

Stewart (Game, Set, and Math) shares his enthusiasm as well as his knowledge in this tour of ground-breaking equations and the research they supported. "Equations are the lifeblood of mathematics, science, and technology," allowing scientists, engineers, and even economists to quantify ideas and concepts. Stewart, Warwick University emeritus professor of mathematics, proceeds chronologically, beginning with Pythagoras' theorem. He opens each chapter with an equation, then summarizes its importance and the technological developments it brought about. Many of the equations are famous, from Maxwell's equations unifying electricity and magnetism, and of course Einstein's "E=mc²", to Schrödinger's equation and its unhappy cat. Some are broader mathematical concepts rather than equations, from logarithms and calculus to chaos theory. Two surprising inclusions are the math behind information theory, created by Claude Shannon, and the infamous Black-Scholes equation--aka the "Midas" formula, which describes how the price of a stock derivative changes over time (which he implicates in the current financial crisis). Stewart assembles an entertaining and illuminating collection of curious facts and histories suitable for random dipping-in or reading straight through. Agent: George Lucas, Inkwell Management. (Mar.)

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