Euclid's Window : The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace

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9780684865232: Euclid's Window : The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace

Through Euclid's Window Leonard Mlodinow brilliantly and delightfully leads us on a journey through five revolutions in geometry, from the Greek concept of parallel lines to the latest notions of hyperspace. Here is an altogether new, refreshing, alternative history of math revealing how simple questions anyone might ask about space -- in the living room or in some other galaxy -- have been the hidden engine of the highest achievements in science and technology.

Mlodinow reveals how geometry's first revolution began with a "little" scheme hatched by Pythagoras: the invention of a system of abstract rules that could model the universe. That modest idea was the basis of scientific civilization. But further advance was halted when the Western mind nodded off into the Dark Ages. Finally in the fourteenth century an obscure bishop in France invented the graph and heralded the next revolution: the marriage of geometry and number. Then, while intrepid mariners were sailing back and forth across the Atlantic to the New World, a fifteen-year-old genius realized that, like the earth's surface, space could be curved. Could parallel lines really meet? Could the angles of a triangle really add up to more -- or less -- than 180 degrees? The curved-space revolution reinvented both mathematics and physics; it also set the stage for a patent office clerk named Einstein to add time to the dimensions of space. His great geometric revolution ushered in the modern era of physics.

Today we are in the midst of a new revolution. At Caltech, Princeton, and universities around the world, scientists are recognizing that all the varied and wondrous forces of nature can be understood through geometry -- a weird new geometry. It is a thrilling math of extra, twisted dimensions, in which space and time, matter and energy, are all intertwined and revealed as consequences of a deep, underlying structure of the universe.

Based on Mlodinow's extensive historical research; his studies alongside colleagues such as Richard Feynman and Kip Thorne; and interviews with leading physicists and mathematicians such as Murray Gell-Mann, Edward Witten, and Brian Greene, Euclid's Window is an extraordinary blend of rigorous, authoritative investigation and accessible, good-humored storytelling that makes a stunningly original argument asserting the primacy of geometry. For those who have looked through Euclid's Window, no space, no thing, and no time will ever be quite the same.

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Review:

"How do you know where you are?" asks Leonard Mlodinow in his charming mathematical history, Euclid's Window. This question and others about space and time grew out of simple observations of the environment by a select group of thinkers whose lives and brains Mlodinow dissects. Starting with Euclid, geometry has flowed out over the centuries, describing the universe, and, Mlodinow argues, making modern civilization possible.

This is not just a history of geometry--it's a timeline of reason and abstraction, with all the major players present: Euclid, Descartes, Gauss, Einstein, and Witten, each represented by a minibiography.

Lots of examples pepper the narrative to help readers achieve their own "eureka!" And it's impossible not to be staggered at the mathematical feats of these geniuses, accomplished as many of them were in the absence of anything but observation and intense thought. Each story builds satisfactorily on the last, until at the end of this delightful book, one has a sense of having climbed a peak of understanding.

A working knowledge of basic geometry is helpful but not essential for enjoying Euclid's Window, and Mlodinow's chatty style lends itself remarkably well to explaining these deep and revolutionary concepts. --Adam Fisher

About the Author:

Leonard Mlodinow, Ph.D., was a member of the faculty of the California Institute of Technology before moving to Hollywood to become a writer for numerous television shows ranging from Star Trek: The Next Generation to Night Court. He has also developed many bestselling and award-winning educational CD-ROMs, and delivered technical and general lectures in ten countries. He is currently Vice President, Emerging Technologies and R&D, at Scholastic Inc. He lives in New York City.

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Leonard Mlodinow
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