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Why Beauty is Truth: The History of Symmetry

By: Ian Stewart

290 pages, Illus, figs

Basic Books

Paperback | May 2008 | #173280 | ISBN-13: 9780465082377
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NHBS Price: £9.99 $13/€11 approx
Hardback | May 2007 | #168075 | ISBN-13: 9780465082360
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About this book

There is no more important concept in the history of mathematics and physics than symmetry. It lies at the heart of relativity theory, quantum mechanics, string theory and much of modern cosmology.

In Why Beauty Is Truth, world-famous mathematician Ian Stewart narrates the history of the emergence of this remarkable area of study, from its roots in tenth-century BC Babylon to its current role in 21st century physics. Stewart introduces us to such characters as the Renaissance Italian genius, rogue, scholar, and gambler Girolamo Cardano, who stole the modern method of solving cubic equations and published it in the first important book on algebra, and the young revolutionary Evariste Galois, who refashioned the whole of mathematics and founded the field of group theory only to die in a pointless duel over a woman, before his work was published.

Stewart also explores the strange numerology of real mathematics, in which particular numbers have unique and unpredictable properties related to symmetry. He shows how Wilhelm Killing discovered "Lie groups" with 14, 52, 78, 133, and 248 dimensions-groups whose very existence is a profound puzzle. Finally, Stewart describes the world beyond superstrings: the "octonionic" symmetries that may explain the very existence of the universe.

(t)he book's greatest value is its insight into what it is to be a mathematician... His enthusiasm is infectious. - The Times

"As a mentor for a budding mathematician, he is remarkably good company." - New Scientist

"eminenetly readable and hard to put down" - Mark Ronan, TLS, February 15, 2008

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Ian Stewart is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick and Director of its Mathematics Awareness Centre. His many books include Does God Play Dice?, Nature's Numbers, Flatterland, and Letters to a Young Mathematician. His writing has appeared in many publications, including New Scientist, and Prospect, and he lives in Coventry.

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