Mathematics of Life by Ian Stewart

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Mathematics of Life by Ian Stewart

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Keith Dudhnath
Reviewed by Keith Dudhnath
Summary: A look at where the boundaries of maths and biology are coming together, also taking in a broad history of biology's great leaps forward. Ian Stewart writes as wonderfully as ever. Worth a look.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2011
Publisher: Profile
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1846681981

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Mathematics and biology don't traditionally mix. As science develops, the boundaries between maths and physics, physics and chemistry and chemistry and biology have become more and more blurred. As it is now, biology requires many mathematical techniques, and it's fair to assume that major biological breakthroughs over the next hundred years will also have a strong basis in maths too. Ian Stewart looks at the major steps forward in the history of biology, and the areas where maths is at the forefront of development.

We've always been a fan of Ian Stewart's work here at Bookbag - we loved his Hoard of Mathematic Treasures, and the associated interview we did with him is still one of our favourites. He writes clearly, eloquently and informatively. It's a fascinating subject - particularly the history of biology, even if you're broadly familiar with it. There are a few brief moments where the style veers slightly towards science textbook, rather than popular science writing, but this is to be expected with the subject matter and it never feels unpleasantly dry.

The only other minor concern is with timing. Stewart makes a strong case for maths being at the forefront of biology and reports intelligently on where this has already occurred. However, come the end of Mathematics of Life there's a small niggle (perhaps only for those who have to review the book!) that there's not enough wide-eyed wonder about the potential, or that the leaps forward thus far haven't been jaw-dropping enough just yet. An earlier book might well be less accurate and a later book might be less original, but if embracing the popular part of popular science, they might read a bit more dramatically. (Of course, if embracing the science part, that's a side issue).

This shouldn't put you off Mathematics of Life. As a broad primer in the field of biology, it's commendable. Given that most popular science books lean towards the physics and chemistry side of things, it's great to embrace something a little different. Anyone with an interest in science will find it an enjoyable and informative read. It's worth checking out.

My thanks to the publishers for sending it to Bookbag.

We've been spoiled by excellent popular science books recently. We particularly enjoyed The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, We Need To Talk About Kelvin by Marcus Chown and Cool Physics by Sarah Hutton.

Bookcomments.jpg Ian Stewart writes for Bookbag looking at the pros and cons popularising mathematics, through books and other means..

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