Beyond Infinity: An expedition to the outer limits of the mathematical universe by Eugenia Cheng
|Beyond Infinity: An expedition to the outer limits of the mathematical universe by Eugenia Cheng|
|Category: Popular Science|
|Reviewer: Louise Jones|
|Summary: Infinity is one of the most powerful concepts in the mathematical universe. Eugenia Cheng explores the idea of infinity and how one little symbol can represent many different things.|
|Buy? yes||Borrow? yes|
|Pages: 316||Date: March 2017|
|Publisher: Profile Books|
|External links: Author's website|
I'm more right.
I'm right times infinity!
I'm right two times infinity!
I'm right times infinity squared!
Most people will have heard, or participated in, this type of childhood argument. It doesn't really make much sense, as we know that infinity goes on forever, and therefore two times infinity and infinity squared cannot be any bigger than infinity itself. But what exactly is infinity? This term has puzzled and intrigued people for generations, and Beyond Infinity sees mathematician Eugenia Cheng take on the challenge of defining infinity and helping us unlock its secrets.
Most people are familiar with the pop science genre, but Cheng is bravely attempting to put the pop into mathematics too. With her quirky and sweet writing style combining with some very complex maths concepts, the finished scenario is a bit like your best friend coming over to your house to share a batch of freshly-made cookies, before steering the conversation toward something incredibly deep and brain-bending. It takes some getting used to, but on some odd level, it actually works.
Cheng's enthusiasm for her subject shines through and it is this aspect that makes the book appealing. She bounces off at odd tangents, discussing everything from mountain-trekking to cake-baking (I especially enjoyed her Spectrum computer nostalgia), but always bringing the conversation back to the nature of infinity. She loves maths. She enjoys the way that it makes her head hurt if she thinks about it too deeply. She is awed by the power that mathematicians have to create new forms of maths and new rules to explain abstract concepts. Prepare to have your preconceptions blown away, because Cheng shows that maths is far from the rigid, rule-driven subject that people think it is.
Infinity, it seems, is a rather large subject, which sprawls beyond the realms of mathematics alone and into science too. We explore the worlds of the infinitely large and infinitesimally small, discover infinite dimensions and discover that some infinities can be larger than others. We take a brief look at category theory, irrational numbers and other mathematical concepts and how they can help us to understand how infinity works.
There were times that I felt a little lost and times when the calculations got too complicated and made my head spin. I also found though that certain ideas, like the Hilbert's Hotel scenario were overused, which made the narrative repetitive in places. This is ironic, when you consider the subject matter!
Cheng is a delightful author, with an infectious charm that works its magic on her readers. If only all maths teachers were as likeable as her; I'm sure we would be a nation of geniuses. Many thanks to the publishers for my personal review copy of the book.
For more by this exciting author, Bookbag loved Cakes, Custard and Category Theory: Easy recipes for understanding complex maths.
You can read more book reviews or buy Beyond Infinity: An expedition to the outer limits of the mathematical universe by Eugenia Cheng at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Beyond Infinity: An expedition to the outer limits of the mathematical universe by Eugenia Cheng at Amazon.com.
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