Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe

Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe

Without calculus, we wouldn’t have cell phones, TV, GPS, or ultrasound. We wouldn’t have unraveled DNA or discovered Neptune or figured out how to put 5,000 songs in your pocket. Though many of us were scared away from this essential, engrossing subject in high school and college, Steven Strogatz’s brilliantly creative, down‑to‑earth history shows that calculus is not abou...

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Title:Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe
Author:Steven H. Strogatz
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Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe Reviews

  • Roberto Rigolin F Lopes

    A few centuries ago some clever people noticed that nature is in an ever-changing state, notably Galileo (1564-1642) studying objects in free fall and Kepler (1571-1630) studying the motion of planets around our sun. Then Newton (1643-1727) and Leibniz (1646-1716) invented a mathematical tool to get closer and closer to the changing system at hand. Steven did a great job explaining how Calculus uses divide-and-conquer to the extreme taming infinity to describe the universe. It changed civilizati

    A few centuries ago some clever people noticed that nature is in an ever-changing state, notably Galileo (1564-1642) studying objects in free fall and Kepler (1571-1630) studying the motion of planets around our sun. Then Newton (1643-1727) and Leibniz (1646-1716) invented a mathematical tool to get closer and closer to the changing system at hand. Steven did a great job explaining how Calculus uses divide-and-conquer to the extreme taming infinity to describe the universe. It changed civilization; this book travels from Archimedes (-212) computing pi to today’s design of airplanes. And Calculus is still evolving like a living organism after an explosion of diversity to explain CHANGE everywhere. For example, Einstein (1879-1955) used Calculus to play with space (say x, y, z) and time, at least four things changing at the same time.

  • Andrii Zakharov

    An absolute joy to read, this book just might make you fall in love with calculus. Yes, Steven Strogatz really is that good.

  • Athan Tolis

    I need to psyche myself up to do some math for work. And I have a math sherpa and I arranged to meet him so he can take me through the paper I must tackle. But I’m old and only really remember my high school math well, so there is a genuine task at hand here.

    So I duck and dive between the paper and my notes from my MSc thesis from at least fifteen years ago and I work out the answer to lesser problems and I write out my questions for my sherpa and I also need to be thinking math the whole time;

    I need to psyche myself up to do some math for work. And I have a math sherpa and I arranged to meet him so he can take me through the paper I must tackle. But I’m old and only really remember my high school math well, so there is a genuine task at hand here.

    So I duck and dive between the paper and my notes from my MSc thesis from at least fifteen years ago and I work out the answer to lesser problems and I write out my questions for my sherpa and I also need to be thinking math the whole time; I need to be in a mood, basically.

    That’s the task.

    So I did the sensible thing and went on a bit of a binge and bought a whole bunch of popular math books in one go to read in the tube. “Infinite Powers” I read first, because it looked like it would not challenge me at all and it gets good writeups.

    It’s bloody awesome!

    It’s more than an anthology of results and it’s more than a series of mini-portraits of mathematicians, it’s almost got a plot. Surprisingly often, even the obligatory corny applications of the math are (somewhat) related to what the author’s talking about.

    Huge caveat: I knew both the math and even many of the stories upfront, so perhaps it’s not very well explained. I have no way of knowing. But I bet you it is. Perhaps not well enough that you could hope to learn calculus from here, Jordan Ellenberg’s praise on the back cover notwithstanding. (For that I can refer you to “Quick Calculus” by twin gods Kleppner and Ramsey.) But probably well enough to be a companion to anybody taking calculus for the first time.

    Steven Strogatz had me from “hello,” of course, because he starts with the Greeks, on whom he lavishes immense praise. He could have left it there and I’d still be basking in the warm glow of my ancestors’ work. Needless to say, it does not stop there, he takes you from them to Fermat and Descartes, before introducing you to Newton and Leibniz, a couple words on Fourier and from him straight to Einstein, taking special care to erase all traces of evil men like the unspeakable inventor of delta-epsilon proofs. You won’t find the C-word here.

    So there’s a massive hole in the nineteenth century, somewhere, but I’m sure you can buy another book to find out about that. Here you’ll discover a decent definition of e, an intuitive explanation of general relativity, the common cause of death of Leibniz and Newton, a fun game to play with your microwave oven, the first and second derivative of the sine wave, the dimension of the three-body problem, a strong defense of infinitesimals, WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?

    Enough from me, I’ll now go buy some extra copies for a few boys and girls I know. If one of them likes it, my job is done.

    Oh, sorry, one more thing. About the plot: it’s a history of how mathematicians throughout time have sliced hard problems into infinite infinitely-thin slices where the problem has a clear answer and then dealt with infinity to sum up the solutions to the easy problem in order to come up with an answer to the hard problem.

    Whenever you do that, you’re doing calculus, you’re putting together the answer granule by granule.

  • Jason Furman

    A fantastic book about calculus. A blend of the history of the development of calculus, its applications, and intuitive explanations of its power filled with nicely intuitive explanations that will either provide a refresher or a different way of understanding what you have already learned.

    Steven Strogatz proceeds in (sort of) chronological order, defining calculus not as what you learn in school but any technique that breaks things apart into infinitesimal pieces and puts them back together aga

    A fantastic book about calculus. A blend of the history of the development of calculus, its applications, and intuitive explanations of its power filled with nicely intuitive explanations that will either provide a refresher or a different way of understanding what you have already learned.

    Steven Strogatz proceeds in (sort of) chronological order, defining calculus not as what you learn in school but any technique that breaks things apart into infinitesimal pieces and puts them back together again in order to solve problems. Rather than describing an immaculate conception of calculus by Leibniz and Newton, Strogatz starts with Archimedes, shows several geometric applications, and even spends a lot of time on Descartes and Fermat before even getting to what we consider calculus today. In all of these he shows how a combination of abstract ideas but also in many cases practical problems led to the development of calculus.

    The chronological order is interrupted (in a good way) by Strogatz’s many descriptions of the applications of calculus to different practical problems, most of which are in the analytically relevant chapter. These include GPS, AIDS drugs, rocketry, and more. In all of these cases Strogatz shows his pedigree as an applied mathematician, going into significant but highly readable detail about the models and discoveries underlying these areas.

    Overall, the book is very nicely written and highly recommended.

  • Lemar

    "Dividing by zero summons infinity in the same way that a Ouia board supposedly summons spirits from another realm. It's risky. Don't go there." This sentence gives a good idea of the fun and rigor that Steven Strogatz brings to this book that explains what the big deal is to people who, let's face it, are unlikely to learn calculus. "The desire to harness infinity and exploit its power is a narrative thread that runs through the whole twenty-five hundred year story of calculus."

    By weaving exam

    "Dividing by zero summons infinity in the same way that a Ouia board supposedly summons spirits from another realm. It's risky. Don't go there." This sentence gives a good idea of the fun and rigor that Steven Strogatz brings to this book that explains what the big deal is to people who, let's face it, are unlikely to learn calculus. "The desire to harness infinity and exploit its power is a narrative thread that runs through the whole twenty-five hundred year story of calculus."

    By weaving examples of what's so damn useful about calculus with stories of great minds and the problems they overcame personally and mathematically, Strogatz wrote a readable, yes, fun book about math. His is not a big ego, he gives pioneers their due and busts some myths along the way, "the Pythagorean theorem did not originate with Pythagoras, it was known to the Babylonians for at least a thousand years before him." We learn about the Chinese genius Liu Hui who improved on Archimedes's method for calculating pi as well as Zu Chongzhi who pushed the study of polygons further than anyone before him. Strogatz has a special affinity for the Sicilian Greek Archimedes. The Hindu contribution is enormous and seems worth an entire book on its own. The Arabic scholar Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham gets recognized as one of the many giants upon whose shoulders Newton and Leibniz stood.

    We don't stop there but in several great chapters we learn about the absolute latest breakthroughs and applications of calculus, to Quantum Electrodynamics and Chaos theory, medicine and many other non-linear problems. Stretching my inelastic brain to the the snapping point, he discusses Eintstein's partial derivative theories.

    "matter tells space-time how to curve, while curvature tells matter how to move. The dance between them makes the theory nonlinear."

    I love that sentence! Strogatz is a true writer, an artist with words who, happily for me, applies that skill to explaining his profession, and love, calculus.

  • Eric

    In

    ,Dr.

    teaches us how to use our microwaves to calculate the speed of light. I’m not kidding. That’s all the recommendation this book needs. Highly Recommended.

    When I tell people that I’m an engineer, my wife likes to follow up that comment with, “He does math all day long.” A common response is, “Oh, you must really like math. I didn’t enjoy it in [insert level of schooling here].” To keep the conversation mov

    In

    ,Dr.

    teaches us how to use our microwaves to calculate the speed of light. I’m not kidding. That’s all the recommendation this book needs. Highly Recommended.

    When I tell people that I’m an engineer, my wife likes to follow up that comment with, “He does math all day long.” A common response is, “Oh, you must really like math. I didn’t enjoy it in [insert level of schooling here].” To keep the conversation moving I agree, and while I do like math, I didn’t always. Until I started studying calculus, math bored me. Algebra existed as a set of rules; geometry, though my introduction to proofs, seemed too abstract. But when I first solved a derivative, my indifference turned to frustration and intrigue. My plan to take only enough math to get an engineering degree changed to a serious contemplation of switching career paths to applied mathematics (with an eye towards physics grad degrees). Ultimately, I stuck with the engineering curriculum but ended up studying higher level mathematics, and to this day, I still read about and love math. Part of my studies now involves going back and filling in what I missed during previous years. One of the voices to which I turn is Dr. Steven Strogatz, and his latest book,

    , fills in details about calculus that I lacked. His explanations don’t rely on the familiar equations but, instead, root themselves in history, in logic, and in excellent prose.

    transforms calculus from equations into meaning.

    In

    , Dr. Strogatz starts with Archimedes from ancient Greece and carries on to some of today’s most unique challenges. It is the story of calculus told as a continuum of human learning. Often, the public thinks that scientific breakthroughs happen when lone geniuses discover something new, but in reality discoveries occur when people improve upon the work of others. In

    Dr. Strogatz traces the methods Archimedes used to Newton and Leibniz, who are the inventors or discoverers of calculus. Along the way, we learn about contributions from Fermat, Galileo, Descartes, Arabic, and Chinese mathematicians. But we don’t stop at the discovery era.

    continues on to Fourier and Sophie Germain. We even get to see how calculus is being used today to treat HIV patients, to create microwaves, and, near to my own heart and pocketbook, help the 787 fly.

    Math possesses a strong language of its own rooted in symbols and logic. While I view this as a strength, I also know others view the equations, Greek letters, and symbols to be inscrutable. Others have said that math texts tend to be dry reads. For anyone who thinks this,

    is the book for you. While equations do exists, they are few. Dr. Strogatz takes the time to explain, in detail, what each of the symbols means. But the majority of the book reads more like a history text than a mathematical treatise. While it doesn’t spoon feed the reader, it doesn’t bog down in jargon. Clarity and simplicity are the descriptors I have already used talking about this book with friends. Dr. Strogatz does an excellent job describing what the math is actually doing. The reader will NOT be able to do any calculus after reading it, but he/she will understand how powerful a tool it is.

    There are graphs and pictures throughout the book. In my advanced reader’s copy (ARC), the graphs didn’t show up. So, I cannot speak to their quality; however, with my background and the detail of Dr. Strogatz’s descriptions, I could picture what his intent was with the graphs. That should be an indicator of success for the prose of this book.

    Bear with me here as I get on my soapbox for a minute. One of the other responses that I get when I’m introduced as an engineer is, “You must be really good at math.” And compared to most people, yes, I am good at math. But I’m good at math for one reason only, I’ve been practicing it in one form or another for the last 23 years. In the martial arts, there’s a saying that a black belt is simply a white belt who didn’t quit. To me, that’s all that math is. I’m good at math and calculus because I didn’t quit doing math. The general public often thinks that math requires a certain mindset or, even, a certain person. No, it requires practices and tenacity. The reason that I stuck with math is because of teachers in high school that showed the same enthusiasm that Dr. Strogatz shows in this book. Teachers and professors who care that students understand a subject make this world a better place. After reading

    , I have no doubt Dr. Strogatz is a teacher than inspires students. I can’t help but wonder what could happen if a book like this gets into the hands of someone who thinks they have to be good at math to understand it.

    Though we use math in the sciences, I’ve come to view it more as an art. The mathematician, engineer, chemist, or whoever must know and understand the tools math gives us in order to solve problems, and like a painter picks and chooses the right brush to add to the painting, the problem solver picks and chooses the correct mathematical tool. It’s a creative process that, instead of being hung in a gallery or museum, zips down the road, flows through our veins, or launches a satellite into space. Dr. Strogatz demonstrates the versatility and creativity that we are capable of when using calculus. Whether putting satellites in space or determining how viruses spread, calculus is a tool for delving into nature’s mysteries.

    stirred that creative sense, that feeling of awe at being able to see into the universes internal mechanisms. At the same time, it reminded me of the ingenuity of the human animal to seek out and explore the world around us. Dr. Strogatz conveys the beauty that one can find in math, and I felt that thrill of discovery again as I read this book.

    Originally, I requested this book because I thought it was about infinity. That mathematical concept that looks like an 8 fell asleep, ∞. Instead, it was about calculus; so, I went into the first few chapters with the wrong expectations. Dr. Strogatz discusses infinity but not enough to satisfy me. And throughout the book, he does reference back to the topic of infinity, but it feels more like a forced attempt to tie the later chapters to the theme. I’m still hoping that Dr. Strogatz gives us a book about infinity in the same detail and manner that he gave us a book about calculus.

    Dr. Steven Strogatz’s

    details the history and development of calculus. Dr. Strogatz’s ability to relate complex mathematical concepts in clear and precise language is at peak form in this book. For anyone curious about calculus, this book provides answers in delightful, easy to understand prose that will awaken your curiousity.

  • Ryan Boissonneault

    Calculus is one of those subjects that is so complicated that most people not only don’t understand it, they don’t even know what it is that they don’t understand. But that’s unfortunate, because calculus is one of humanity’s most impressive achievements, an accomplishment that unlocks the secrets of the universe and delivers our most profound and useful technology, from radio and television to GPS navigation and MRI imaging. Calculus is the main protagonist in the story of science, and is a sub

    Calculus is one of those subjects that is so complicated that most people not only don’t understand it, they don’t even know what it is that they don’t understand. But that’s unfortunate, because calculus is one of humanity’s most impressive achievements, an accomplishment that unlocks the secrets of the universe and delivers our most profound and useful technology, from radio and television to GPS navigation and MRI imaging. Calculus is the main protagonist in the story of science, and is a subject every educated person should understand at least conceptually.

    Fortunately, you don’t have to trudge through a thousand-page textbook to appreciate the story and power of calculus. Steven Strogatz, in his latest book

    , has provided a clear, concise, and fascinating tour of the subject. In fact, if you don’t understand what calculus is all about after reading this book, then the prospects are not great that you ever will. There is simply no better, clearer presentation of the ideas available. Strogatz uses metaphors, illustrations, stories, and examples to guide the reader through the most difficult concepts. While this is not an easy read, it is as reader-friendly as possible; remember, you’re tackling the most sophisticated branch of mathematics, the underlying logic of all science, and a subject that the sharpest mathematical minds in history had to grapple with for thousands of years.

    As Strogatz explains, calculus is difficult because it’s tackling the most difficult problems humans encounter, problems that necessitate complex equations, notation, and mathematical manipulation. But behind this computational complexity lies an obsession with simplicity, with breaking down hard problems into easier parts. The special innovation of calculus, as Strogatz explains, is that problems are broken down into

    small and manageable parts and then recombined back into the whole.

    So what is calculus, exactly? It’s easier to describe calculus by the types of problems it solves than by standard mathematical definitions. When most people hear terms like “infinite series,” “limits,” “derivatives,” and “integrals,” they lose sight of the bigger picture of what calculus is trying to accomplish.

    One type of problem calculus can solve is the area under a curved surface. Area is typically quite easy to solve for shapes with straight lines. For rectangles, for example, the area is simply length times width. But what about for shapes with curves where the slope is constantly changing? There is no simple formula to calculate the area in this situation.

    You could approximate the area by overlaying rectangular objects over the curved shape (as shown below), but this would only be an approximation as the rectangles would not fit exactly in the curved shape. However, as you made the rectangles smaller (and increased their number) the fit inside the curved shape would keep improving and the approximation would keep getting more accurate. Since you can always keep dividing a number in half (you can always make a number larger or smaller), you can add an

    number of smaller rectangles into the curved shape. You can never complete this process (which is why the concept of “completed infinity” is logically incoherent), but you could

    keep adding rectangles forever, which is logically coherent and shows the difference between “completed infinity” and “potential infinity.” As you increase the number of rectangles, you get closer and closer to the area, which is the limit of the infinite series. The area of the curved shape becomes the sum of the infinite series of rectangles. Calculus is the set of equations and procedures to carry out this calculation precisely.

    Calculus can also solve problems of motion. Straight-line motion at constant velocity is easy. If you know the speed of an object, then the distance traveled is simply speed times time. But how can you calculate the trajectory of, say, a planet, that not only continuously changes direction in orbit around the sun but that also speeds up or slows down depending on its distance from the sun? This is not so easy, but is solved in a similar way by breaking down the trajectory into infinitely smaller parts and then summing the series. Calculus provides the procedures and notation to carry this out in the most efficient way.

    You’ll notice that both examples above solve for problems where some quantity is continuously changing. That means that calculus can solve

    problem that involves a quantity that is continuously changing, like the spread of a virus, population growth, or continuously compounding interest in finance. Even without understanding the specific calculations, it’s amazing to contemplate the fact that we can harness the power of infinity to calculate with precision the area under

    curved surface, the dynamics of

    continuously changing variable, and the trajectory of

    object anywhere in the universe!

    Of course, this brief sketch is only a description of the subject in its simplest terms; there is much more to the subject and the mechanics of the calculations gets incredibly complex. If you’re interested in diving deeper into the subject, with examples and proofs, Strogatz delivers a nice mixture of pure mathematics, practical examples, and a history of the personalities behind the development of calculus. Of particular interest for me was Strogatz’s solution of Zeno’s Achilles and the Tortoise paradox, a solution that finally made sense to me (in brief, the solution is that an infinite amount of steps can be completed in a finite amount of time).

    If you find calculus near impossible to learn, you won’t be happy to know that Isaac Newton

    the subject before he turned 25. But you might find some solace in the fact that Newton did little else; he had few friendships and no romantic relationships, so he had all the time in the world to devote to numbers and experiments.

    Newton also couldn’t have done it alone. He was exactly right when he said that he was able to see further by “standing on the shoulders of giants.” As Strogatz explained:

    “But again, he [Newton] couldn’t have done any of this without standing on the shoulders of giants. He unified, synthesized, and generalized ideas from his great predecessors: He inherited the Infinity Principle from Archimedes. He learned his tangent lines from Fermat. His decimals came from India. His variables came from Arabic algebra. His representation of curves as equations in the xy plane came from his reading of Descartes. His freewheeling shenanigans with infinity, his spirit of experimentation, and his openness to guesswork and induction came from Wallis. He mashed all of this together to create something fresh, something we’re still using today to solve calculus problems: the versatile method of power series.”

    There are at least two lessons here; first, knowledge grows exponentially, not linearly, and there is no limit to what can be discovered. By standing on the shoulders of giants, each generation can build on the developments of the past, as Einstein was able to do by rejecting Newton’s ideas of space and time as absolute. Holding a person, idea, or generation in complete reverence inhibits progress, as when we followed Aristotle for 1,500+ years and maintained the belief that the earth was stationary. The best book I’ve read that elaborates on this point is

    by the physicist David Deutsch.

    Second, calculus demonstrates the power of human cooperation. No single mind could have developed calculus from scratch. People of diverse origin and circumstance collaborated to find solutions to common, tangible problems, because they didn’t waste their time thinking about arbitrary human divisions and other products of pure imagination, like religion. Newton borrowed from ancient Greek geometry, French analytic geometry, the Indian decimal system, and Arabic algebra. As a result, he discovered the mathematical logic and underlying laws of nature that applied equally to objects anywhere in the universe, thus uniting the entire cosmos. This universality, as Strogatz recognized, sparked the beginning of the Enlightenment.

    A final point: in the concluding chapter, Strogatz describes Richard Feynman’s quantum electrodynamics (QED) theory, which, by using calculus, describes the quantum interaction of light and matter. Physicists use the theory to make predictions about the properties of electrons and other particles. As Strogatz said, “by comparing those predictions to extremely precise experimental measurements, they’ve shown that the theory agrees with reality to eight decimal places, better than

    .”

    This means that QED is the most accurate theory anyone has ever devised about anything. A prediction with an accuracy of 8 decimal places is like, using Strogatz’s example, planning to snap your fingers exactly 3.17 years from now down to the second, without the help of a clock or alarm. As Strogatz further explains:

    “I think this is worth mentioning because it puts the lie to the line you sometimes hear, that science is like faith and other belief systems, that is has no special claim on truth. Come on. Any theory that agrees to one part in a hundred million is not just a matter of faith or somebody’s opinion. It didn’t have to match to eight decimal places.”

    You will also often hear that science can’t determine right and wrong actions, which in some sense is correct, but misses the point. The moral element of science does not lie in any particular factual claim; it lies in the orientation to forming beliefs. The scientific mindset is not about clinging on to and forming your identity around a set of unalterable beliefs. The scientific mindset is about curiosity, orientation to discovering truth, intellectual integrity, and revising beliefs in the face of new evidence. It’s also, as I believe calculus shows, about the recognition of the power of human cooperation and the pursuit of knowledge as a collective human endeavor.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    I feel bad for kids who do ordinary arithmetic in grade school. For me, the math doesn't get interesting until you get above the Calculus line. Calculus with its dealings with the continuum is the first real taste of the infinite. If you stick around for Calculus I bet you would want more. Strogatz in this book shares some of the excitement we have once the math gets weird. In some places, math can be hallucinogenic. I encourage people to look beyond grade school stuff which is way more interest

    I feel bad for kids who do ordinary arithmetic in grade school. For me, the math doesn't get interesting until you get above the Calculus line. Calculus with its dealings with the continuum is the first real taste of the infinite. If you stick around for Calculus I bet you would want more. Strogatz in this book shares some of the excitement we have once the math gets weird. In some places, math can be hallucinogenic. I encourage people to look beyond grade school stuff which is way more interesting especially if you have been disappointed by math.

    and totally unrelated a Pink Floyd mandelbrot zoom for Hippies of a Mathematical platonist bent.

    oops accidentally inserted the wrong video on AI which is also interesting but not intentional.

  • linhtalinhtinh

    I certainly wish I had read this book while in high school or college. We grilled all the basic technical parts of calculus and yet unsure what was the point. Well certainly you don't need to know it if you do not work in science and research. Life can go on just as well. But being able to appreciate the beauty of it is an added bonus. And then who knows, seeing that beauty could change the path you take in life.

    Strogatz takes the same approach with his earlier pop science book,

    , i.

    I certainly wish I had read this book while in high school or college. We grilled all the basic technical parts of calculus and yet unsure what was the point. Well certainly you don't need to know it if you do not work in science and research. Life can go on just as well. But being able to appreciate the beauty of it is an added bonus. And then who knows, seeing that beauty could change the path you take in life.

    Strogatz takes the same approach with his earlier pop science book,

    , i.e. trying his best to explain calculus via intuition, allegories, and graphs. It works up to some extent. Some concepts require a lot more, but as the author tries to avoid discussing the technicals, the discussion becomes a bit shallow. That is still fine, this is not a textbook.

    What I'm a bit uneasy about is Strogatz's reverence for calculus to the point of being religious. Maybe I have taken it wrong, taken his comparison/allegory too much at face value when he cites Feymann over and over again that it is the language of God. Just as the title says, Strogatz argues that calculus is so special, nature acts according to the rules of calculus, everything can be described using these types of equations. Perhaps I've taken calculus for granted. Of course it is behind everything. Modern science is built upon math and ultimately one of the most powerful tools ever invented. Yes, calculus is a tool, a language. It is a lens of looking at the world and of course whatever picture one sees would be described in that medium. Is it so surprising? Could there be another language that provides a different lens to see the world? I'm an illiterate here, I have no idea. My take is that calculus has been so successful to deal with so many problems of interest, and there are so many things to extend and develop, that one isn't incentivized to go through all the pain to develop another language to compete with it. But I would prefer to think that there are possible options out there, so that calculus is not necessary the one (and only) language of "God."

    Strogatz also emphasizes that calculus is behind everything, behind all sorts of important equations and inventions in human history, driving progress and success. It is true that calculus is used, but I feel that the writing is tilted towards overstressing the importance of calculus and downplaying all other types of ingenious ideas and inventions that work together. Perhaps one needs to exaggerate to attract attention. It is the way of writing not the idea.

    And of course any language has its limitation. Strogatz gives a lot of praises and does not so much tell readers what are the stuffs that calculus cannot deal with. Sure, towards the end he does say there is a limit to what mathematicians can solve, such as nonlinearity. He hints at the need for another type of method to approach such problems, such as that from Poincare. The discussion is not as comprehensive as I would like.

    Don't get me wrong, I love calculus. I'm more of an abstract thinker and do not need much to be convinced that calculus a wonderful and elegant tool. Yet I have problems with the writing. I prefer writings with more nuance. I ended up looking forward to the bits talking about mathematicians and their private lives. But Professor Strogatz is not a historian, so I was naturally also not satisfied either.

  • Rama

    This book does not make calculus interesting

    Calculus is widely perceived as important part of science in understanding basic laws of physics. But it also has important applications in advanced physics; relativity and quantum mechanics, cosmology, astronomy, biology, chemistry, medicine, geology, ecology and in everyday life. In this book, the author discusses calculus as catch-as-catch-can story in an historical context without giving some ideas of how calculus helped physics to evolve. This is

    This book does not make calculus interesting

    Calculus is widely perceived as important part of science in understanding basic laws of physics. But it also has important applications in advanced physics; relativity and quantum mechanics, cosmology, astronomy, biology, chemistry, medicine, geology, ecology and in everyday life. In this book, the author discusses calculus as catch-as-catch-can story in an historical context without giving some ideas of how calculus helped physics to evolve. This is not a recipe book and at the same time it is not overwhelming. But in the absence of clear mathematical methods or its applications, this is a slapdash story that does not make calculus interesting.

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