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A brief history of infinity : the quest to think the unthinkable

by Brian Clegg

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A brief history of infinity: the quest to think the unthinkable    (2013-01-13)


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by wppalmer

Review of A brief history of infinity: the quest to think the unthinkable by Brian Clegg.

CITATION: Clegg, Brian (2002). A brief history of infinity: the quest to think the unthinkable. London: Robinson.

Reviewer: Dr W. P. Palmer.

This reviewer has an interest in the history of science and found the lives of the various mathematicians, given briefly, as one of the positive features of the `A brief history of infinity'. Several of the mathematicians mentioned also had scientific discoveries to their credit, such as Newton and Galileo and the historical information about these scientists, though brief, appeared accurate.

The mathematical work of Galileo mentioned showed him to be more of a polymath than I had realised. However, when Clegg mentions `Brownian motion', Clegg's claim to historical accuracy is severely dented. Robert Brown, not James Brown (p. 213), is usually considered the discoverer of the phenomenon of Brownian motion, though the phenomenon had been noticed half a century earlier. James Brown was a Scottish clergyman and the father of Robert Brown (1773-1858). Robert Brown was Scottish and not English. Errors, such as this, should have been edited out.

What of the book more generally? A number of other reviewers found the writing a little dull and I have to agree with that opinion. However, I did learn a lot from the book and I have a fuller view of the concept of infinity than I had previously. I liked the last chapter with its story of Gabriel's Horn, a paradox that was new to me.

Overall, though not enthused, I find that it was a worthwhile read.


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