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In Pursuit of the Unknown

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Who Should Read it

Math enthusiasts and history lovers

Why Should We Read it

This book tells us fun stories about the math equations we hear from time to time. Do you know what math equations enable the invention of skyscrapers, high-speed trains, and flash drives? Read on!

What Will We Learn

We will learn the practical achievements of 17 math equations including the Pythagorean theorem, logarithms, calculus, Newton's Law of gravity, complex numbers, Euler's formula for polyhedra, normal distribution, wave equation, Fourier transformation, Navier-Stokes equation, Maxwell's equations, Second Law of Thermodynamics, Relativity, Schrodinger's equation, information theory, chaos theory, and Black-Scholes equation.

Book Summary

When I was in high school, I benefited greatly from math teachers who were passionate about their craft (shout out to you, Mr. Lieblang and Mr. Garrett!). Their enthusiasm prompted me to continue to dabble in mathematics in college, where I advanced up to multivariable calculus. I remember learning to perform matrix multiplication in a large lecture hall, but also remember not seeing much utility in studying increasingly abstract concepts. I should have read Ian Stewart’s In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations that Changed the World.

"..the struggles of each chapter's mathematician takes on an urgency befitting an Oscar-worthy Hollywood movie."

The book reads like a fun history lesson, and Mr. Stewart brings to life the personalities behind such storied names like Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrodinger. He also introduced fascinating historical figures like Girolamo Cardano, the gambling scholar, and George Berkeley, the Bishop of Cloyne who intellectually sparred with Isaac Newton. With Mr. Stewart, there is historical context to math, and the struggles of each chapter’s mathematician takes on an urgency befitting an Oscar-worthy Hollywood movie. And in every page Mr. Stewart emphasizes that these equations, far from being a historical curiosity, have meaningful impact on our everyday modern lives, whether we love math or not.

"The opportunities of our modern world are fundamentally indebted to these equations."

The book itself requires no formal math skills to enjoy. The early chapters acted as a refresher for concepts I hadn’t used in over a decade, whereas the mathematical concepts of the later chapters easily went over my head, even as I understood thematically what the equations have potential to achieve. Herein lies Mr. Stewart’s brilliance. Like my high school teachers, he takes an abstract topic and is able to breathe into it a vitality that reveals just how inspiring math can be. The opportunities of our modern world are fundamentally indebted to these equations. My appreciation for these opportunities are thanks to men like Mr. Lieblang, Mr. Garrett, and Mr. Stewart.