In Pursuit of the Unknown Book Summary - In Pursuit of the Unknown Book explained in key points
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In Pursuit of the Unknown summary

Ian Stewart

17 Equations That Changed the World

4.4 (90 ratings)
22 mins

Brief summary

In Pursuit of the Unknown by Ian Stewart is a fascinating tour of the history of mathematics. From ancient times to modern, it explores the discoveries and controversies that have shaped our understanding of this integral field.

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    In Pursuit of the Unknown
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    The Pythagorean theorem shaped our understanding of geography and Earth’s place in the solar system.

    On the surface, the Pythagorean theorem looks simple. Made up of the equation a²+b²=c², it explains the relationship between the three sides of a right-angled triangle where a and b represent the sides that form the right angle and c is the longest side.

    Despite its simplicity, the theorem was a vital first step in developing the geometric techniques needed for making accurate maps: triangulation. Since all polygons can be cut into triangles, and all triangles can be cut into two right-angled triangles, the equation allows us to calculate the sides and angles of any polygon. In mapmaking, the area being surveyed is covered with a network of triangles, which allows us to measure distances and angles between stretches of land.

    Because of technological advancements in measuring tools, explicit triangulation is no longer used. However, it’s still there in the methods used to deduce locations from the satellite data.

    Generalizations of Pythagoras’s theorem also enable us to measure the shape of the universe. The Earth has the shape of a sphere, sure, but what about the universe? Finding the answer to this question seems like an impossible task: after all, we can’t step outside to see what shape it is.

    However, thanks to generalizations of Pythagoras’s theorem, there is something else we can do.

    Pythagoras’s theorem applies to triangles in a flat plane. But generalizations of it can apply to triangles in spaces that are curved. For example, applying triangles onto a sphere makes it possible to measure our planet. But there’s more: these generalizations can also tell us how curved the spaces are. So by measuring triangles within space, we can try to compute its curvature.

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    What is In Pursuit of the Unknown about?

    In this book, Ian Stewart focuses on 17 famous equations in mathematics and physics history, highlighting their impact on society. Stewart gives a brief history of the wonders of scientific discovery, and peppers it with vivid examples and anecdotes.

    In Pursuit of the Unknown Review

    In Pursuit of the Unknown by Ian Stewart (2012) takes readers on an exciting journey through the world of mathematics, revealing its hidden beauty and applications in our everyday lives. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • It showcases intriguing mathematical puzzles and problems that challenge and stimulate the mind, making the subject accessible and enjoyable for all readers.
    • Through vivid historical anecdotes and real-life examples, the book brings mathematics to life, highlighting its relevance and impact on society.
    • With its clear explanations and engaging storytelling, the book makes complex mathematical concepts easy to understand, ensuring readers never find the topic boring.

    Best quote from In Pursuit of the Unknown

    Equations are the lifeblood of mathematics, physics and technology. Without them, our world would not exist in its present form.

    —Ian Stewart
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    Who should read In Pursuit of the Unknown?

    • Anyone interested in how mathematical ideas affect science and society
    • Anyone who’s always been scared of complicated-looking formulas
    • Anyone fascinated by the beauty and hidden power of formulas

    About the Author

    Stewart is professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Warwick, England, and fellow of the Royal Society. His main mathematical interests are Lie algebras and the theory of dynamical systems and its connection to chaos theory and biology. He is the author of several popular science books including Does God Play Dice? The New Mathematics of Chaos and Why Beauty Is Truth: A History of Symmetry.

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    In Pursuit of the Unknown FAQs 

    What is the main message of In Pursuit of the Unknown?

    The main message of In Pursuit of the Unknown is that mathematics is a fascinating and ever-evolving field that impacts our lives in countless ways.

    How long does it take to read In Pursuit of the Unknown?

    The reading time for In Pursuit of the Unknown varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is In Pursuit of the Unknown a good book? Is it worth reading?

    In Pursuit of the Unknown is a captivating book that offers a deep dive into the world of mathematics. It is certainly worth reading if you enjoy exploring the mysteries of the universe.

    Who is the author of In Pursuit of the Unknown?

    Ian Stewart is the author of In Pursuit of the Unknown.

    What to read after In Pursuit of the Unknown?

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