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Benjamin Franklin's Numbers An Unsung Mathematical Odyssey by Paul C. Pasles

Benjamin Franklin's Numbers An Unsung Mathematical Odyssey


Benjamin Franklin's Numbers An Unsung Mathematical Odyssey by Paul C. Pasles

Few American lives have been as celebrated--or as closely scrutinized--as that of Benjamin Franklin. Yet until now Franklin's biographers have downplayed his interest in mathematics, at best portraying it as the idle musings of a brilliant and ever-restless mind. In Benjamin Franklin's Numbers, Paul Pasles reveals a side of the iconic statesman, scientist, and writer that few Americans know--his mathematical side. In fact, Franklin indulged in many areas of mathematics, including number theory, geometry, statistics, and economics. In this generously illustrated book, Pasles gives us the first mathematical biography of Benjamin Franklin. He draws upon previously unknown sources to illustrate Franklin's genius for numbers as never before. Magic squares and circles were a lifelong fascination of Franklin's. Here, for the first time, Pasles gathers every one of these marvelous creations together in one place. He explains the mathematics behind them and Franklin's hugely popular Poor Richard's Almanac, which featured such things as population estimates and a host of mathematical digressions. Pasles even includes optional math problems that challenge readers to match wits with the bespectacled Founding Father himself. Written for a general audience, this book assumes no technical skills beyond basic arithmetic. Benjamin Franklin's Numbers is a delightful blend of biography, history, and popular mathematics. If you think you already know Franklin's story, this entertaining and richly detailed book will make you think again.


Pasles...speculates gleefully on the oft-denied mathematical genius of Benjamin Franklin...Drawing on Franklin's letters and journals as well as modern-day reconstructions of his library, Pasles touches on Franklin's fondness for magazines of mathematical diversions; publication of arithmetic problems in Poor Richard's Almanac; startlingly accurate projections of population growth and cost-benefit arguments against slavery. --Publisher's Weekly In Franklin's Numbers, a book mixing intellectual history and mathematical puzzles (with solutions appended), Paul Pasles brings out a less-celebrated sphere of Franklin's intellect. He makes the case for the founding father as a mathematician. --Jared Wunsch, Nature Pasles delivers surprising news to Sudoku lovers: Benjamin Franklin once shared their passion...Pasles illuminates Franklin's innovative use of mathematical logic in settling moral questions and in assessing population trends. Franklin's mathematical pursuits thus emerge as a complement to his much-lauded work in politics and science. An unexpected but welcome perspective on the genial genius of Philadelphia. --Bryce Christensen, Booklist There is hardly a discipline on which Franklin did not stamp his mark during the 18th century. But the role that mathematics played in his life has been overlooked, argues Paul Pasles. Franklin, for instance, was fascinated with magic squares, and this book provides plenty of background to help the reader admire his interest. --New Scientist [This is] a book that is an easy read for the innumerate but which also provides nourishment for those more skilled in the niceties of math...Also included are some contemporary puzzles that offer the reader the chance to contest skills with Franklin himself. --James Srodes, The Washington Times Making frequent use of Franklin's writings as well as mathematical brainteasers of the type that Franklin enjoyed, Benjamin Franklin's Numbers is an engaging and thoroughly unique biography of a singular figure in American history. --Ray Bert, Civil Engineering I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is written in a pleasant, conversational style and the author's enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. The text is richly embroidered with colorful details, both mathematical and historical. --Eugene Boman, Convergence: A Magazine of the Mathematical Association of America Pasles has succeeded in writing a book dealing with mathematics that is accessible to readers at all levels, yet thoroughly referenced and scholarly enough to satisfy researchers. His endeavor was eased by the fact that the bulk of the material concerns Franklin's magic squares and circles, which only require that the reader have the ability to add. Unexpectedly, Pasles contributes much that is new; he corrects the errors of previous authors and presents new ideas through literary sleuthing and mathematical analysis. --C. Bauer, Choice Pasles makes a convincing case for Franklin as the last true Renaissance man in what is an entertaining and informative book that will even appeal to readers with only limited knowledge of mathematics. --Physics World With seven years of diligent study, by going through a vast amount of archive material, references including primary sources and books and research papers, the author has produced a carefully documented and fascinating account to substantiate the theme he makes, namely, that Franklin 'possessed a mathematical mind.' --Man Keung Siu, Mathematical Reviews [Paul C. Pasles] and the publisher should ... be commended for producing a highly aesthetically pleasing book, with a color centerpiece showing many of Franklin's beloved magic squares in their full glory. --Eli Maor, SIAM Review This book will appeal to readers with an interdisciplinary interest in both history and mathematics. Teachers who enjoy showing students the many ways in which they can draw on mathematics to construct logical, real-world arguments will find useful examples for the classroom. The book also includes a variety of number puzzles that can be used to challenge students. --Michelle Cirillo, Mathematics Teacher I found Benjamin Franklin's Numbers a delightful book. I enjoyed studying and playing with the magic squares and patterns, and I was fascinated by the biographical tidbits about Franklin. This book is very well written, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in mathematics or in Benjamin Franklin. --James V. Rauff, Mathematics and Computer Education

About the Author

Paul C. Pasles is associate professor of mathematical sciences at Villanova University.

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Book Info

Publication date

15th October 2007


Paul C. Pasles

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Princeton University Press


272 pages


History of mathematics
Mathematical foundations



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