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Why Beauty Is Truth: A History of Symmetry – by Ian Stewart
I felt so bad about the stupid mistake I made–mixing up two books on the mathematical concept of symmetry, its history, and its usefulness in modern physics–that I had to read the other one, too.
In short, it’s a terrific book. It covers more territory than the book I originally read–venturing deeper into the physics of the 20th and 21st centuries than Mario Livio’s “The Equation that Couldn’t Be Solved,” with more biographies of the pivotal figures involved. “The Equation that Couldn’t Be Solved” also took a rather lengthy detour into the life of a French mathematician, Evariste Galois, which was fascinating but seemed to belong in a different book. Galois’s final days (he was killed in a mysterious duel) are intriguing but have nothing to do with mathematics.
In my original review (where it turned out I was talking about the book by Mario Livio), I started by saying, “This is the kind of math book I like: no pages full of equations I can’t follow.” I feel that Stewart’s book takes this too far. I think there were not enough equations for the complexity of the math presented. Analogies and illustrations can only take the reader so far, and I think it’s better to present some equations in the hope that they will help and with the knowledge that they may be skimmed or skipped. Instead, I had to skim or skip some of the text when the concepts were just too difficult.
All in all though, a worthwhile book.