The Cult of Pythagoras (Paperback)
Math and Myths
University of Pittsburgh Press, 9780822962700, 288pp.
Publication Date: June 26, 2013
The Cult of Pythagoras is also about invention in a positive sense. Most people view mathematical breakthroughs as “discoveries” rather than invention or creativity, believing that mathematics describes a realm of eternal ideas. But mathematicians have disagreed about what is possible and impossible, about what counts as a proof, and even about the results of certain operations. Was there ever invention in the history of concepts such as zero, negative numbers, imaginary numbers, quaternions, infinity, and infinitesimals?
Martínez inspects a wealth of primary sources, in several languages, over a span of many centuries. By exploring disagreements and ambiguities in the history of the elements of mathematics, The Cult of Pythagoras dispels myths that obscure the actual origins of mathematical concepts. Martínez argues that an accurate history that analyzes myths reveals neglected aspects of mathematics that can encourage creativity in students and mathematicians.
About the Author
Alberto A. Martínez is associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Science Secrets: The Truth about Darwin’s Finches, Einstein’s Wife, and Other Myths, Kinematics: The Lost Origins of Einstein's Relativity, and Negative Math: How Mathematical Rules Can Be Positively Bent.
Praise For The Cult of Pythagoras: Math and Myths…
—Jeremy Gray, The Open University
“Mathematics is the last subject one would expect to be infested with mythology, but even mathematicians can fall for myths, particularly those concerning the history of their subject. In this delightful exposé, Alberto Martínez finally busts the many myths of math, and the results are both sobering and fascinating.”
—John C. Stillwell, University of San Francisco
“An engaging study.”
“Martinez explains concepts like ‘imaginary numbers’ and ‘velocity calculation’ in a manner that makes them easy for even a non-math person to understand. . . . Discussions of complex mathematical concepts are where Martinez shines. . . . An unexpectedly engaging book on a subject often considered very dry. While the book will certainly be of interest to students and scholars of math, Martinez has situated the subject in broader themes of human nature in a way that will appeal to a much wider audience.”
—Texas Books in Review
“Serves to set the record straight for two potential audiences. First, for those of us who consider ourselves knowledgeable about the history of mathematics, this book aims to shake us out of our naivety by forcing us to reexamine how we know what we know and how we should distinguish fact from the fiction that so often substitutes for a proper history of mathematics. Second for those who are not familiar with the history of mathematics, this book provides a compilation of historical examples that portrays mathematical knowledge as fluid, controversial, and ever evolving.”
—Springer Science+Business Media
—American Mathematical Monthly