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The Seduction of Curves : The Lines of Beauty That Connect Mathematics , Art and the Nude

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A lavishly illustrated book that explores the language of curves that spans the human body, science, engineering, and art

Curves are seductive. These smooth, organic lines and surfaces—like those of the human body—appeal to us in an instinctive, visceral way that straight lines or the perfect shapes of classical geometry never could. In this large-format book, lavishly illustrated in color throughout, Allan McRobie takes the reader on an alluring exploration of the beautiful curves that shape our world—from our bodies to Salvador Dali’s paintings and the space-time fabric of the universe itself.

The book focuses on seven curves—the fold, cusp, swallowtail, and butterfly, plus the hyperbolic, elliptical, and parabolic “umbilics”—and describes the surprising origins of their taxonomy in the catastrophe theory of mathematician Rene Thom. In an accessible discussion illustrated with many photographs of the human nude, McRobie introduces these curves and then describes their role in nature, science, engineering, architecture, art, and other areas. The reader learns how these curves play out in everything from the stability of oil rigs and the study of distant galaxies to rainbows, the patterns of light on pool floors, and even the shape of human genitals. The book also discusses the role of these curves in the work of such artists as David Hockney, Henry Moore, and Anish Kapoor, with particular attention given to the delicate sculptures of Naum Gabo and the final paintings of Dali, who said that Thom’s theory “bewitched all of my atoms.”

A unique introduction to the language of beautiful curves, this book may change the way you see the world.

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McRobie Allan
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Allan McRobie is a Reader in the Engineering Department at the University of Cambridge, where he teaches stability theory and structural engineering. He previously worked as an engineer in Australia, designing bridges and towers.

1 The Alphabet of Beautiful Curves 1
2 The Fold 5
3 The Cusp 14
4 The Swallowtail 22
5 The Butterfly 31
6 The Wigwam 35
7 Lips, Beaks, Gull, Goose 37
8 The Persistence of Cusps 43
9 Moire and Dupin 47
10 The Umbilics 61
11 Catastrophe Optics 67
12 The Rainbow 73
13 Gravitational Lenses 77
14 Stability 85
15 Morphogenesis 88
16 Gabo 94
17 The Pregnance of Curves 117
18 Thom 125
19 Dali 135
Notes 147
Bibliography 151
Image Credits 153
Index 157

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