Book review: Infinite Powers, by Steven Strogatz

Strogatz’s enthusiasm for calculus knows virtually no bounds. “My goal in this book has been to show calculus as a whole, to give a feeling for its beauty, unity and grandeur.” He sees it as a major part of mathematics, with a long history. In this he is unusual. The conventional view is that calculus burst on the scene in the seventeenth century with the work of Leibniz and Newton, entered a golden period of wild expansion in the 1700s, and consolidated its achievements in the 1800s; by 1900 the story was practically finished.

Strogatz, in contrast, sets it in a much wider historical perspective. He doesn’t want to say that it was invented in the late seventeenth century. Rather, he sees its roots extending back to the Greek thinkers, especially Archimedes, and he compares the seventeenth-century development by Newton and Leibniz to the dramatic biological evolutionary event known as the Cambrian explosion that occurred half a billion years ago, gave rise to new types of animals, and shaped the subsequent course of life on earth, Biological evolution and the evolution of calculus are still continuing. Continu reading.

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