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Publisher's Summary

In Significant Figures, acclaimed mathematician Ian Stewart introduces the visionaries of mathematics throughout history. Delving into the lives of 25 great mathematicians, Stewart examines the roles they played in creating, inventing, and discovering the mathematics we use today. Through these short biographies, we get acquainted with the history of mathematics from Archimedes to Benoit Mandelbrot, and learn about those too often left out of the cannon, such as Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (c. 780-850), the creator of algebra, and Augusta Ada King (1815-1852), Countess of Lovelace, the world's first computer programmer.

Tracing the evolution of mathematics over the course of two millennia, Significant Figures will educate and delight aspiring mathematicians and experts alike.

©2017 Joat Enterprises (P)2017 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"By showing how even mathematical geniuses face all-too-human challenges, Stewart offers a riveting chronicle of one of humankind's loftiest endeavors." (Paul Halpern, author of The Quantum Labyrinth)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Derek
  • Buffalo, NY
  • 11-23-17

Fantastic

Easy to follow narration, and the right amount of depth used for the discussion of each person. It certainly did its job in provoking my imagination and informing me

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Pronounce the names mathematicians correctly

Any additional comments?

Should take the extra effort to have someone review the pronunciation of main subjects names! Euler is oi-ler - not as it looks like in English.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great stories, math made accessible to the novice

Where does Significant Figures rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I like this audiobook most, because I think it is inspiring to people who like mathematics. Several other nonfiction audiobooks in similar areas are interesting, but many of the mathematical ones stop short of detail that illustrates how ingenious or special some of the mathematical thinkers were. I like that the ideas are here, they are accessible, but they aren't too watered down.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Significant Figures?

I learned a lot about integrable tops. It was fascinating to me how Kovalevskaya came into the picture.

Which character – as performed by Roger Clark – was your favorite?

I think Ramanujan's story is my favorite.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, for sure, although I had to pause it occasionally to look up great mathematicians or mathematical ideas to get more detail (Poincare and topology especially).

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Fantastic Mathematical History Journey

Well written and researched exploration of the lives of 20+ significant Mathematical figures across the last 2500 years. As the author acknowledges, some favorites have been left out for sure, but a good and intriguing list. The narration is a bit study though, and imposed an unnecessary formality and inapproachability to this work. Luckily, the English cigar parlor overtone can be overcome, and the book enjoyed in its own right.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Beware

While the stories are interesting and well-written, the narrator, with his faux-British accent (he’s actually from New Jersey), his mispronunciations of nearly every proper name in the book, and his literal (rather than conventional) reading of mathematical expressions, utterly ruins the experience. How someone could go to the effort and expense of this recording without consulting someone to ensure that the names of the book’s subjects were correctly pronounced is beyond me.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A terrible narration of a great book

I really like the author, his writing, and his choice of significant mathematicians. However, the narration was horrible. I have studied mathematics in both the USA and the UK, culminating in a PhD, and I can certify for you that nearly every last name has been pronounced incorrectly. Moreover, the narrator clearly doesn't know high school algebra, because he mispronounced very common terms. What was spectacularly painful to the ears was the attempt to read formulas, and even the start of sequences and series, verbally. Instead of reading f(5) as "f of 5" he would say "f open brackets five close brackets." For more complex formulas, it was truly absurd.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Horrible recording

Sounds to me like those who recorded this, did not notice the resonance of the reader's voice that resulted from the terribly resonant room in which the speaker sat while it was recorded. Sounded like a small wooden box or casket. I would expect better recording quality from middle-school students.
Listening to this annoying recording with headphones is painful to anyone accustomed to decently recorded speech. The room should not be audible; we should not hear the table on which the reader sets their notes; the compression on the voice should not exceed 3 dB; distance from the microphone to the face of the reader should be between 20 cm and 30 cm. A large-capsule static microphone with a high quality mic pre-amp should be used with minimal eq. All of these recommendations are rudimentary guidelines in professional audio engineering practice. Therefore, I would recommend that Audible screen the quality of the product they offer, and filter out mediocre work, or in this case low quality recordings. The reader was Ok, though at times, a bit monotonic, a bit long winded lacking a keen sense of pace and dynamic. Pronunciation errors could have been edited out. The story is wonderful in my opinion, so I would easily purchase this again and recommend it to others if someone would re-record the book in a good recording environment, and an audio engineer with an understanding of high-quality speech recording. I've listened to a dozen Audible books with audio quality ranging from fair to excellent. So it is with great disappointment to have to suffer through hours of low-grade audio.

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    5 out of 5 stars

excellent, but tough listen

probably the most rewarding history book that I've ever listened to. I need to give the guy who read the audio book a lot of credit, but I can't remember his name. He did a really good job though. Not all of that stuff is easy to talk about and sound excited. I'm not even sure that it's appropriate to sound excited. I liked it anyway. I learned a lot about all of these people some of them I didn't even really know existed and others I knew of but I gained a lot of insight on who they were from this book.