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What is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods

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For more than two thousand years a familiarity with mathematics has been regarded as an indispensable part of the intellectual equipment of every cultured person. Today, unfortunately, the traditional place of mathematics in education is in grave danger. The teaching and learning of mathematics has degenerated into the realm of rote memorization, the outcome of which leads to satisfactory formal ability but does not lead to real understanding or to greater intellectual independence. This new edition of Richard Courant's and Herbert Robbins's classic work seeks to address this problem. Its goal is to put the meaning back into mathematics.Written for beginners and scholars, for students and teachers, for philosophers and engineers, What is Mathematics?, Second Edition is a sparkling collection of mathematical gems that offers an entertaining and accessible portrait of the mathematical world. Covering everything from natural numbers and the number system to geometrical constructions and projective geometry, from topology and calculus to matters of principle and the Continuum Hypothesis, this fascinating survey allows readers to delve into mathematics as an organic whole rather than an empty drill in problem solving. With chapters largely independent of one another and sections that lead upward from basic to more advanced discussions, readers can easily pick and choose areas of particular interest without impairing their understanding of subsequent parts.Brought up to date with a new chapter by Ian Stewart, What is Mathematics?, Second Edition offers new insights into recent mathematical developments and describes proofs of the Four-Color Theorem and Fermat's Last Theorem, problems that were still open when Courant and Robbins wrote this masterpiece, but ones that have since been solved.Formal mathematics is like spelling and grammar--a matter of the correct application of local rules. Meaningful mathematics is like journalism--it tells an interesting story. But unlike some journalism, the story has to be true. The best mathematics is like literature--it brings a story to life before your eyes and involves you in it, intellectually and emotionally. What is Mathematics is like a fine piece of literature--it opens a window onto the world of mathematics for anyone interested to view.

Authors: Courant Richard, Robbins Herbert
Pages: 592
ISBN: 9780195105193
Cover: Paperback
Edition Number: 2
Release Year: 1996

Richard Courant was born in 1888 in a small town of what is now Poland, and died in New Rochelle, N.Y. in 1972. He received his doctorate from the legendary David Hilbert in Göttingen, where later he founded and directed its famed mathematics Institute, a Mecca for mathematicians in the twenties. In 1933 the Nazi government dismissed Courant for being Jewish, and he emigrated to the United States. He found, in New York, what he called "a reservoir of talent" to be tapped. He built, at New York University, a new mathematical Sciences Institute that shares the philosophy of its illustrious predecessor and rivals it in worldwide influence.

For Courant mathematics was an adventure, with applications forming a vital part. This spirit is reflected in his books, in particular in his influential calculus text, revised in collaboration with his brilliant younger colleague, Fritz John.

(P.D. Lax)

Fritz John was born on June 14, 1910, in Berlin. After his school years in Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), he studied in Göttingen and received his doctorate in 1933, just when the Nazi regime came to power. As he was half-Jewish and his bride Aryan, he had to flee Germany in 1934. After a year in Cambridge, UK, he accepted a position at the University of Kentucky, and in 1946 joined Courant, Friedrichs and Stoker in building up New York University the institute that later became the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. He remained there until his death in New Rochelle on February 10, 1994.

John's research and the books he wrote had a strong impact on the development of many fields of mathematics, foremost in partial differential equations. He also worked on Radon transforms, illposed problems, convex geometry, numerical analysis, elasticity theory. In connection with his work in latter field, he and Nirenberg introduced the space of the BMO-functions (bounded mean oscillations). Fritz John's work exemplifies the unity of mathematics as well as its elegance and its beauty.

(J. Moser)

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