Saturday, October 21, 2006

Joseph Mazur: Euclid in the Rainforest

I received a copy of Joseph Mazur's Euclid in the Rainforest as a going away gift when I left CommerceNet. Will figured out that I like reading books of puzzles, logic, and math.

It's a rambling approach to a lot of interesting byways in math and logic. The style switches between travelogue and reminiscence, always with in-depth side journeys into history of math and various logic puzzles.

The first section is presented as the story of the narrator's trip through the Amazon basin, running into various characters with interesting problems that require logical reasoning and an awareness of math or geometry to solve. How powerful a winch do you need to pull a two-ton truck up a 45 ° slope? In explaining the answer, we see the first of many proofs of the Pythagorean Theorum. At this point, the narrator also starts showing us how to disentangle syllogisms. His example asks what you can conclude from the following statements?

  1. Atoms that are not radioactive are always unexcitable.
  2. Heavy atoms have strong bonds.
  3. Uranium is tasteless.
  4. No radioactive atom is easy to swallow.
  5. No atom that is not strong is tasteless.
  6. All atoms are excitable except uranium.
He goes on to talk about Infinity and Probability in engaging ways. All in all, an enjoyable book. Not very deep; not much that was new, but the material was presented in a way that kept up my interest.

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