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Secondary Magazine - Issue 37: From the editor

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 23 June 2009 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 06 July 2009 by ncetm_administrator

Secondary Magazine Issue 37library - photograph by Jeff Wilcox

Read any good books lately?

Isn’t it great when your school librarian comes to you and says there is money to spend on books for the mathematics section in the library? And don’t you feel inadequate when you can’t find anything that would really appeal to teenage mathematicians? So when I find two books in a week that would sit proudly in the library, I feel elated! These two books are very different, but both earn their place on my bookshelves.

The first is a really enchanting novel The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa (ISBN 978-1-846-55250-2). The novel is not about maths, but a love of mathematics is the consuming passion of The Professor in the title. The narrator is a woman hired to be a housekeeper for a retired maths professor. The professor’s short term memory only lasts for 80 minutes, so each day he meets his housekeeper and her young son afresh. She quickly learns how the professor copes with his memory loss and is herself inspired to think differently about problem solving and numbers. The result is a charming story about relationships which has mathematics and baseball centre stage. The professor uses quirky mathematical facts and number relationships to break the ice in difficult situations, he also introduced me to a mathematical palindrome:


The second book is The Story of Mathematics by Anne Rooney (ISBN 078-1-84193-940-7). This book is attractively presented with many colour illustrations, making it appealing and accessible. It is the sort of book that can be read from cover to cover to gain an overall picture of the significant events in the history of mathematics, or just dipped into to find interesting facts and anecdotes. For example: The Greeks disliked irrational numbers to the point, perhaps, of murdering Hippasus for proving their existence.
Galileo discovered a practical solution to the problem of finding an area under a curve. He would plot his curve, then cut it out and weigh the paper. By comparing the weight with the weight of a piece of paper of known area, he could work out the area under the curve.

There is a wide range of topics which include:

  • counting and measuring
  • geometry and its roots in Ancient Egypt
  • the movement of the planets
  • algebra
  • the first computers
  • chaos theory and fuzzy logic
  • set theory.

There are some topics, like the development of the underground system in Sendai, Japan, and the SETI project (Search for extra-terrestrial intelligence) that are governed by mathematical principles and may be of interest to learners. It is useful to be able to set the life and work of great mathematicians into the wider context of mathematical developments, and to contrast the sophistication of mathematical discoveries with other developments of their times.

Have you got some favourite mathematical books? What takes pride of place in your library? Why not tell us about it here…

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