Mathematical Encounters of the Second Kind
Philip J. Davis has won numerous awards for his scientific writing, among them the National Book Award. Mathematical Encounters of the Second Kind is a joyful memoir of the author's encounters, some actual and some fictional, with a number of mathematicians and historical figures. For instance, few people know that Napoleon Bonaparte of France, Lord Rothschild of England, and Queen Hortense of the Netherlands had in common an interest in mathematical talent. Fewer still know the influence that that interest had on their lives and on the lives of others of their respective times. And only Davis knows that, were it not for one of them, he might never have developed the interest in mathematics that has led him to a life of creating and applying mathematics and writing about it for his peers, his students, and a wide range of intellectually curious readers.
Davis' message is that an interest in mathematics can, like any activity of the human mind, bring people into contact with each other over centuries, over oceans, and over cultural separations. He came to realize that mathematics goes beyond the scientific and technological needs of society, and can serve as a social connection among people of diverse origins, abilities, and stations in life. He turns, in his correspondence and travels, some surprising corners, sharing with us his encounters with a world of academics, politicians, writers, and even spies, all connected through some of the simplest, yet most profound ideas in mathematics.
What emerges is an entertaining and informative portrayal of an occupation that is not well understood or is misconceived by the rest of the world. The general reader will find that little mathematical knowledge is required to join and to enjoy the commentary and the fun of the encounters.
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