Witty Historical Survey
Biography of Albert Einstein by Walter Isaacson would be a good companion to Euclid's Window. The historical perspective of Einstein's life and especially the detail about his difficulties with developing the Theory of Relativity through the politics and antisemitism help provide the skeleton of history provided in Euclid's Window with the fullness of flesh.
Blumenfeld's intelligible diction was reminiscent of a professors monologue with the inflection of entertainment and the confidence indicating a familiarity with the work. He was a perfect choice for this entertaining historical writing.
I particularly enjoyed the author's use of his two sons in demonstrating complex ideas. One particular scene is of Alexi as Einstein and Nicholas as Heisenberg in a heated discussion over whether small regions of space are flat if it is devoid of mass. Alexi says it should be but Nicholas taunts him with his principle of uncertainty causing fluctuations of gravity that belie flatness of space.
I am going to listen to the book a second time. I like the chronological approach to the development of the geometry. Truly it presents math as a natural philosophy based on the world and a desire to understand it. In the next reading of the text I am going to stop periodically to learn more in depth the concepts and supplement the reading with other writings.
Having just finished the audio version of Leonard Mlodinow’s book, Euclid’s Window, I wish I could recommend it without caveat, but I can’t. Mlodinow is obviously a gifted mathematician. His academic credentials include studies at the Max Planck Institute and the California Institute of Technology, where he served on the faculty for a number of years. Having spent some time as a graduate student at Caltech, I know what that means: the guy’s brilliant! Unfortunately mathematical brilliance doesn’t necessarily translate into being an engaging writer.
Euclid’s Window takes the reader on a journey through five revolutions in the history of geometry, which is to say five revolutions in humanity’s way of looking at the world. In the book’s introduction Mlodinow outlines this thesis in broad strokes and also describes the societal evolution that accompanied these intellectual changes. If the remainder of the book had merely continued this program, filling in Mlodinow’s arguments in more detail and sophistication, I’d have been well pleased; but, in spite of his considerable mathematical expertise, Professor Mlodinow makes some surprisingly ineffective choices.
For instance, he seems to prefer cumbersome rather than straightforward examples. In discussing Riemann’s theory of elliptical spaces, rather than refer to a simple imaginary sphere with convenient integral dimensions, he drags the reader through a labored geographical representation using the Earth’s surface. The result is a tedious litany of place names and mileages, which might have been instructive as a printed table, but makes for excruciating listening. Similar lumbering demonstrations occur throughout the book.
Lack of illustrations is another deficiency. I don’t know whether the print version of Euclid’s Window employs diagrams – it’s hard to imagine a book about geometry that doesn't! - but they’d have been impossible to convey in the audio format anyway. For listeners trying to assimilate unfamiliar concepts, this could be a significant handicap.
While the mathematical explanations in Euclid’s Window are cogent enough, I found the discussions of physics to be less so. Mlodinow introduces the uncertainty principle without describing the matrix mechanics that Heisenberg used to derive it and General Relativity without mentioning its basic language of tensor calculus. String theory is given even shorter shrift. If you’re considering buying the book, be advised: you won’t learn much math or science. It's all window dressing.
On the other hand the history in Euclid’s Window is fascinating. I had no idea, for example, that Riemann’s gifted predecessor, Carl Friedrich Gauss, led such a dreadful childhood. Mlodinow’s description of the role that geometry played in ancient Egypt and other remote civilizations is fascinating too. Since more of the book is devoted to history than to anything else, maybe that's as it should be.
Stylistically the book was not entirely to my taste either. Mlodinow’s humor is often contrived, and his repeated inclusion of his own sons to personalize discussions quickly lost its charm. I have no doubt that Alexei and Nicholai are delightful youngsters, but Alexei’s decision to dye his hair blue before attending school one day, like the other adventures real and imaginary, that Mlodlinow recounts, added little to my understanding or enjoyment. Technically the audiobook reflects Audible.com’s usual high standards. Robert Blumenfeld’s performance is marred by only a couple of mispronunciations and a tone that occasionally seems a bit precious.
As you can see from the content of this review, my specific objections to the book are all minor, perhaps even petty; but at the end of the day, having listened to the entire audio version, I felt basically unsatisfied. Professor Mlodinow has written another popular book about mathematics entitled Drunkard’s Walk, which deals with the role of random processes in the physical world, a topic that interests me a great deal; but, based on my experience with Euclid’s Window, I’m not going to get it. What more can I say?
I am 26 years old, a nurse, and a big fantasy and science fiction fan.
I love non fiction and learning about something new. I was very surprised at how clever the writing was in this book. Some one-liners downright had me laughing out loud. At one point, my brother (22 years old and a law student without much math or science in his background) sat through an hour long car ride in which I listened to this audio book, and even from a random point in the book, he found himself exclaiming in surprise at some interesting facts he learned, and laughing at the clever jokes and side comments.
I have to say that I learned something, but furthermore enjoyed learning it. It didn't feel tremendously technical or too plodding and long. It also explores the contributing social circumstances and history of the various mathematicians and scientists mentioned within its pages, which helps create a broad knowledge base on the topics at hand and about the people behind the discoveries as well.
Making Hyperbolic Geometry fun and interesting to the general reader deserves a great review. In the next edition replace "Jesuits" and "Franciscans" with "Benedictines" and give examples of (actual) modern geometrical reasoning in side boxes.
I really love both history and mathematics, so this was the perfect read for me.
In college, I was so focused on problem solving, I wasn't able to step away from the text to really delve into the story behind the Geometry. This read affords me that chance and has me going back to some of my old text and rediscovering what I really love about mathematics.
Very much recommended for anyone who loves history and is fascinated by mathematics ;-)!
I think as an audible text, may have been more engaging if it were more biographical. Probably a 4 star book if read from paper.
Canarsie Brooklyn, what more can I say
you are going to want to listen to this audiobook over and over, the actor reading is superb,
easy to understand how these mathematicians saw their world.
I liked the way the author covers the history of discoveries in physics and mathematics from Pythagoras and Euclid to Einstein and beyond. I'm just a layman and I actually got the gist of most of the math and physics. I now understand how the leap to hyperbolic geometry helped Einstein and others to describe relativity and how the universe works. The author explains how math and physics evolved through the efforts of many great thinkers leading up to Einstein. And he finishes with the current state of string theory.
I also liked About Time and The Clockwork Universe because they give you a historical perspective of our understanding of the universe and our place in it.
He read very well.
While this book is full of interesting information the authors examples make the point he is trying to make overly complicated because he insists on injecting his version of humor into almost every one leaving the example hard and at times almost impossible to understand.
The book would have been much better if the author could have used some restraint in trying to prove his whit every 30 seconds.
Although the author discusses some interesting material, the narrator's voice makes it had for me to judge the style. He sounds pompous and arrogant, and what might has been good-natured humor as written by the author sounds snide and ill-natured. It is also true that geometry is not the best subject for an audio book. But I did choose it.