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Henri Poincar�: A Scientific Biography

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A comprehensive look at the mathematics, physics, and philosophy of Henri Poincar� Henri Poincar� (1854-1912) was not just one of the most inventive, versatile, and productive mathematicians of all time--he was also a leading physicist who almost won a Nobel Prize for physics and a prominent philosopher of science whose fresh and surprising essays are still in print a centu A comprehensive look at the mathematics, physics, and philosophy of Henri Poincar� Henri Poincar� (1854-1912) was not just one of the most inventive, versatile, and productive mathematicians of all time--he was also a leading physicist who almost won a Nobel Prize for physics and a prominent philosopher of science whose fresh and surprising essays are still in print a century later. The first in-depth and comprehensive look at his many accomplishments, Henri Poincar� explores all the fields that Poincar� touched, the debates sparked by his original investigations, and how his discoveries still contribute to society today. Math historian Jeremy Gray shows that Poincar�'s influence was wide-ranging and permanent. His novel interpretation of non-Euclidean geometry challenged contemporary ideas about space, stirred heated discussion, and led to flourishing research. His work in topology began the modern study of the subject, recently highlighted by the successful resolution of the famous Poincar� conjecture. And Poincar�'s reformulation of celestial mechanics and discovery of chaotic motion started the modern theory of dynamical systems. In physics, his insights on the Lorentz group preceded Einstein's, and he was the first to indicate that space and time might be fundamentally atomic. Poincar� the public intellectual did not shy away from scientific controversy, and he defended mathematics against the attacks of logicians such as Bertrand Russell, opposed the views of Catholic apologists, and served as an expert witness in probability for the notorious Dreyfus case that polarized France. Richly informed by letters and documents, Henri Poincar� demonstrates how one man's work revolutionized math, science, and the greater world.


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A comprehensive look at the mathematics, physics, and philosophy of Henri Poincar� Henri Poincar� (1854-1912) was not just one of the most inventive, versatile, and productive mathematicians of all time--he was also a leading physicist who almost won a Nobel Prize for physics and a prominent philosopher of science whose fresh and surprising essays are still in print a centu A comprehensive look at the mathematics, physics, and philosophy of Henri Poincar� Henri Poincar� (1854-1912) was not just one of the most inventive, versatile, and productive mathematicians of all time--he was also a leading physicist who almost won a Nobel Prize for physics and a prominent philosopher of science whose fresh and surprising essays are still in print a century later. The first in-depth and comprehensive look at his many accomplishments, Henri Poincar� explores all the fields that Poincar� touched, the debates sparked by his original investigations, and how his discoveries still contribute to society today. Math historian Jeremy Gray shows that Poincar�'s influence was wide-ranging and permanent. His novel interpretation of non-Euclidean geometry challenged contemporary ideas about space, stirred heated discussion, and led to flourishing research. His work in topology began the modern study of the subject, recently highlighted by the successful resolution of the famous Poincar� conjecture. And Poincar�'s reformulation of celestial mechanics and discovery of chaotic motion started the modern theory of dynamical systems. In physics, his insights on the Lorentz group preceded Einstein's, and he was the first to indicate that space and time might be fundamentally atomic. Poincar� the public intellectual did not shy away from scientific controversy, and he defended mathematics against the attacks of logicians such as Bertrand Russell, opposed the views of Catholic apologists, and served as an expert witness in probability for the notorious Dreyfus case that polarized France. Richly informed by letters and documents, Henri Poincar� demonstrates how one man's work revolutionized math, science, and the greater world.

37 review for Henri Poincar�: A Scientific Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Baibhav Sharma

    Densest biography ever. If you look close enough, it's implied. Henri, Scientific, Poincare. This book pulls no punches in the depth of the math of the polymath. Densest biography ever. If you look close enough, it's implied. Henri, Scientific, Poincare. This book pulls no punches in the depth of the math of the polymath.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jeremiah Tesch

    This was certainly well written but went to a little more mathematical depth than I was looking for. It was interesting to learn more about the origins of the principles taught in engineering school.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brian Clegg

    My first sight of this book filled me with a certain unease. It would be polite to call it chunky – in truth, at 542 pages plus appendices, it is obese. This initial feeling was not helped by a bizarre statement the author makes in the introduction. ‘This is a scientific biography of Henri Poincaré,’ he says. ‘It is confined entirely to his public life: his contributions to mathematics, to many branches of physics, technology, to philosophy and to public life. It presents him as a public figure My first sight of this book filled me with a certain unease. It would be polite to call it chunky – in truth, at 542 pages plus appendices, it is obese. This initial feeling was not helped by a bizarre statement the author makes in the introduction. ‘This is a scientific biography of Henri Poincaré,’ he says. ‘It is confined entirely to his public life: his contributions to mathematics, to many branches of physics, technology, to philosophy and to public life. It presents him as a public figure in his intellectual and social world; it leaves the private man alone apart from a deliberately brief account of his childhood and education.’ No, no, no! This is a bizarre distortion of what a scientific biography should be. I am comfortable with keeping coverage of his childhood and education brief, as they are usually dull and not particularly illuminating. There are clear counter-examples, for example, with Newton’s formative years, which are absolutely crucial in understanding the scientist, but for many, these aspects are fairly irrelevant. But the point of a scientific biography, as opposed to a book about a person’s science pure and simple is that it puts the science into context – and that context must include the private life. Can you imagine a biography of Richard Feynman without his private life coming into it? This is a crazy viewpoint. Even so I persevered, as I have always had Poincaré in my mind as one of those mathematicians beloved by other mathematicians but of little interest to the real world, so I wanted to find out more about the man (as much as Jeremy Gray would allow me) and his impact on science and technology. It was hard work. There’s an awful lot (some of it truly awful) about the subtleties of philosophy that gets in the way of much of the more interesting content. This is supposed to be a scientific biography, remember, not a philosophical one. When there is a section that is more of interest (and the way the book is organized does not make it easy to find your way around), frankly it can verge on the unreadable. This is the worst kind of dry academic writing, combined with an approach to the science that is strongly mathematical in flavour and the author lacks any skill in actually explaining the science for anyone who doesn’t know the maths already. There is always a danger in reading an academic tone and complaining that it’s not popular science because it was never intended to be. And this book is published by Princeton University Press. But I was told it was suitable for a general readership, and this is usually the case with scientific biographies. But I am afraid this is really only suitable for a very narrow audience with a purely academic interest in pure and applied mathematics and the philosophy behind it. Disappointing. Review first published in www.popularscience.co.uk and reproduced with permission

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Jerpe

  5. 5 out of 5

    Trygve Bærland

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ageel Ali

  7. 4 out of 5

    Richard Earl

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Bonde

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jacobsca

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jack

  11. 5 out of 5

    Adamdadeh

  12. 5 out of 5

    Friedrich Mencken

  13. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

  14. 5 out of 5

    Julian

  15. 5 out of 5

    Deanne

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mihai

  17. 4 out of 5

    ingenvector

  18. 4 out of 5

    Philippe R Beauchamp

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mengsen Zhang

  20. 4 out of 5

    Chris Arreola

  21. 4 out of 5

    John Connor

  22. 5 out of 5

    Frederic

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rr

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bthef

  25. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kajetan

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nitin Rughoonauth

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chiamkh

  30. 5 out of 5

    Aakarsh Nair

  31. 5 out of 5

    Katia

  32. 5 out of 5

    Don Pennington

  33. 4 out of 5

    J.

  34. 5 out of 5

    Mayra Gómez

  35. 4 out of 5

    CRyan64

  36. 4 out of 5

    R.g. Dogan

  37. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

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