The Music of Pythagoras
How an Ancient Brotherhood Cracked the Code of the Universe and Lit the Path from Antiquity to Oute
By Kitty Ferguson
Walker & Company, Hardcover, 9780802716316, 384pp.
Publication Date: April 15, 2008
List Price: $26.95*
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The enthralling story of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans, whose insights transformed the ancient world and still inspire the realms of science, mathematics, philosophy, and the arts.
"Pythagoras's influence on the ideas, and therefore on the destiny, of the human race was probably greater than that of any single man before or after him," wrote Arthur Koestler. Though most people know of him only for the famous Pythagorean Theorem (a2 +b2=c2), in fact the pillars of our scientific tradition--belief that the universe is rational, that there is unity to all things, and that numbers and mathematics are a powerful guide to truth about nature and the cosmos--hark back to the convictions of this legendary sixth-century B.C. scholar.
Born around 570 B.C. on the cultured Aegean island of Samos, Pythagoras (according to ancient tales) studied with the sage Thales nearby at Miletus, and with priests and scribes in Egypt and Babylon. Eventually he founded his own school at Croton in southern Italy, where he and his followers began to unravel the surprising deep truths concealed behind such ordinary tasks as tuning a lyre. While considering why some string lengths produced beautiful sounds and others discordant ones, they uncovered the ratios of musical harmony, and recognized that hidden behind the confusion and complexity of nature are patterns and orderly relationships. They had surprised the Creator at his drafting board and had glimpsed the mind of God Some of them later would also find something darker in numbers and nature: irrationality, a revelation so unsettling and subversive that it may have contributed to the destruction of their brotherhood.
Praised for her ability to illuminate complex subjects, Kitty Ferguson brilliantly evokes the archaic world of Pythagoras, showing how ideas spread in antiquity, chronicling the influence he and his followers have had on so many extraordinary people in the history of Western thought and science, and bringing a poignant human saga to readers who are daily reminded that harmony and chaos can and do coexist.
Kitty Ferguson is the author of Tycho & Kepler, Measuring the Universe, The Fire in the Equations, and Stephen Hawking: Quest for a Theory of Everything. She is also a Juilliard-trained professional musician, and lives in New Jersey.
"An engaging survey of the ideas that have been thought of as Pythagorean."—A Gottlieb, Wall St. Journal
“a many-layered palimpsest that Ferguson expertly deciphers.”—Ben Longstaff, New Scientist
“The beauty of Ferguson’s exploration is her expression of this seduction through time and civilizations up to the scientific present… A lively narrative and a bounty of information make Ferguson a must in popular mathematics.”—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
“…comes on like a good friend bursting with some amazing thing she can't wait to share (the passages on Bertrand Russell are particularly sharp and funny….winning, accessible and intermittently fascinating.”—Publishers Weekly
“A stimulating, wide-ranging look at how the Greek mathematician and philosopher's key insights have been at the heart of an enormous range of subsequent thought.”—Kirkus ReviewsPraise for Tycho & Kepler:
“Her skill in explaining complex astronomical problems and procedures clearly and succinctly is nothing short of amazing.”—Philadelphia Inquirer
“In Tycho & Kepler, we are given a sense of science as a quintessentially human activity, conducted by living, breathing and distinctly idiosyncratic subjects.”—Los Angeles Times (one of the Best Books of 2003)
“Ferguson shows beautifully how the obsessions of the pragmatic, imperious Brahe meshed perfectly with those of the idealistic, pensive Kepler.”—Natural History