Based on Mlodinow's extensive historical research; his studies alongside colleagues such as Richard Feynman and Kip Thorne; and interviews with leading physicists and mathematicians such as Murray Gell-Mann, Edward Witten, and Brian Greene, Euclid's Window is an extraordinary blend of rigorous, authoritative investigation and accessible, good-humored storytelling that makes a stunningly original argument asserting the primacy of geometry. For those who have looked through Euclid's Window, no space, no thing, and no time will ever be quite the same.
©2009 Leonard Mlodinow; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
A book about math, I know almost the definition of boring. NOT THIS ONE! I laughed and couldn't wait to get back to listening whenever I stopped. I was very sorry that it was over when done. I would buy a sequel in a heartbeat. The author is funny and makes the complex ideas understandable with everyday examples. Wonderfully well written and enjoyable.
I thought the author did an excellent job---particularly with the history up through Gauss---of crafting an interesting "story" out of the history of Geometry. Lots of fun anecdotes, many of which were new to me, and I think would be of interest to a reader interested in the subject.
I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, but for someone who likes interesting non-fiction, it's not bad.
The author accomplishes a masterful survey of geometry from the beginning of time until today. I know, you are already yawning; that is probably because your high school geometry teacher was like mine. The level of detail was a perfect amalgam of accuracy and clarity. The historical characters he introduces throughout have more dimensions than just their mathematical prowess. These people, like his examples, are multi-dimensional and, in general, quite relevant.
A good book for the student (high-school or above) or adult who merely wants a better understanding of the geometry that permeates our experience.
The author does an excellent job of bringing subject matter from the realm of math and physics PhD's to those of us who can grasp the concepts but lack the training and tools to apply them. I enjoyed the narrator's performance and thought the dry wit of the author hit the right tone.
I especially enjoyed the historical connections and practical examples that were not difficult to visualize even without looking at text.
Mlodinow's Euclid's window does not get the reader too deep into Geometry but presents more of an overview of the development of our abstract understanding of space. The part of the book that stands out for me is the development of Elliptic and Hyperbolic geometry with Riemann and Gauss. Here Mlodinow really shows the depth of his knowledge and does a great job. He also touches on interesting facts that Gauss had read Kant 5 times and then dropped his ideas as inadequate. He also seems to present a thesis that Mathematicians are born not made, as only 1 in 3 million individuals contribute creatively to the field. I did not feel that the development from Riemann to String Theory to Ed Witten’s M theory had the concepts as coherently explained as the section on curved spaces.
You will also find a bit of a polemic against religion and philosophy mostly in the first half of the book. The most interesting section was his story of Hypatia, and if you are looking to confirm anti-theist sentiment this is pretty persuasive. On a wider scale this book fits with the growing number of scientists that are anti-religion and anti-philosophy. Some of the stand out writers of this type are Stephen Hawking, Dan Dennet and Richard Dawkins but you also have second tier writers like Steven Weinberg and Leonard Mlodinow. You cannot learn too much science from books like this but the cultural voice of the physicist is interesting in pointing out how religious dogma holds back the pace of discovery and the freedom of the individual to follow wherever the facts lead. Anti-philosophy is also part of the mix for Mlodinow, for speculations without the guide of experiment mean nothing, he appeals to both Gauss and Feynman who called philosophy BS. There is a sense that to understand the world that science and mathematics is now the only path and that religion and philosophy should be left behind. The big question remains, who well can science, replace religion and philosophy?
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?
If you just want to know about Euclid the stop after the first three chapters. Discussion on Einstein helped me explain Relativity to my spouse in general terms. Area on Newton was OK but left out other contributors of the Age. I plan a second listen soon. More on the Ancients would have been nice since that is what I expected from the title.
The author of this book was surprisingly funny. He did a good job bringing you through the history of geometry. I just have one question, Wheres Euler?
Private intellectual, writer, and retired academic. Currently R&D director for Gravitational Systems Engineering, Inc.
I would describe this book as analogous to a community brown bag feast. There were quite a few good bits, but equal amounts of dense tough inedible bits of uncertain origin. I think the author tried and failed to cover much to wide of a field, and in the end left me with more questions than answers. I did gain a better understanding of the nature and role of geometry in modern science. But the author's tendency to digress into quick recitation of abstract and abstruse formulas was extremely frustrating. I recommend this book to those who want to understand the history of science, although there are quite a few better texts available from Audible. I don't recommend this book to anyone who is looking to learn more about either Euclid or Geometry.
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