Abel's Proof An Essay on the Sources and Meaning of Mathematical Unsolvability

by Peter (Tutor and Musician in Residence, St. John's College) Pesic

Part of the The MIT Press Series

Abel's Proof An Essay on the Sources and Meaning of Mathematical Unsolvability Synopsis

The intellectual and human story of a mathematical proof that transformed our ideas about mathematics. In 1824 a young Norwegian named Niels Henrik Abel proved conclusively that algebraic equations of the fifth order are not solvable in radicals. In this book Peter Pesic shows what an important event this was in the history of thought. He also presents it as a remarkable human story. Abel was twenty-one when he self-published his proof, and he died five years later, poor and depressed, just before the proof started to receive wide acclaim. Abel's attempts to reach out to the mathematical elite of the day had been spurned, and he was unable to find a position that would allow him to work in peace and marry his fiance. But Pesic's story begins long before Abel and continues to the present day, for Abel's proof changed how we think about mathematics and its relation to the real world. Starting with the Greeks, who invented the idea of mathematical proof, Pesic shows how mathematics found its sources in the real world (the shapes of things, the accounting needs of merchants) and then reached beyond those sources toward something more universal. The Pythagoreans' attempts to deal with irrational numbers foreshadowed the slow emergence of abstract mathematics. Pesic focuses on the contested development of algebra-which even Newton resisted-and the gradual acceptance of the usefulness and perhaps even beauty of abstractions that seem to invoke realities with dimensions outside human experience. Pesic tells this story as a history of ideas, with mathematical details incorporated in boxes. The book also includes a new annotated translation of Abel's original proof.

Abel's Proof An Essay on the Sources and Meaning of Mathematical Unsolvability Press Reviews

Pesic's book is a good place to begin to learn about this important piece of intellectual history. -Fernando Q. Gouvea , American Scientist Peter Pesic's tale of how maths came to be is as exciting as any fiction. -The Economist * Reviews * Pesic's book is a good place to begin to learn about this important piece of intellectual history. -Fernando Q. Gouvea , American Scientist * Reviews *

Book Information

ISBN: 9780262661829
Publication date: 27th February 2004
Author: Peter (Tutor and Musician in Residence, St. John's College) Pesic
Publisher: MIT Press an imprint of MIT Press Ltd
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 222 pages
Categories: History of mathematics,

About Peter (Tutor and Musician in Residence, St. John's College) Pesic

Peter Pesic, writer, pianist, and scholar, is Director of the Science Institute and Musician-in-Residence at St. John's College, Santa Fe. He is the author of Abel's Proof: An Essay on the Sources and Meaning of Mathematical Unsolvability; Seeing Double: Shared Identities in Physics, Philosophy, and Literature; Sky in a Bottle; and Music and the Making of Modern Science, all published by the MIT Press.

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