Why Beauty Is Truth: A History of Symmetry
An eminent teacher and writer explores an idea both simple and complex, both multidisciplinary and unifying–the story of symmetry.
At the heart of relativity theory, quantum mechanics, string theory, and much of modern cosmology lies one concept: symmetry.
In Why Beauty Is Truth, world-famous mathematician Ian Stewart narrates the history of the emergence of this remarkable area of study. Stewart introduces us to such characters as the Renaissance Italian genius, rogue, scholar, and gambler Girolamo Cardano, who stole the modern method of solving cubic equations and published it in the first important book on algebra, and the young revolutionary Evariste Galois, who refashioned the whole of mathematics and founded the field of group theory only to die in a pointless duel over a woman before his work was published.
Stewart also explores the strange numerology of real mathematics, in which particular numbers have unique and unpredictable properties related to symmetry. He shows how Wilhelm Killing discovered "Lie groups" with 14, 52, 78, 133, and 248 dimensions–groups whose very existence is a profound puzzle. Finally, Stewart describes the world beyond superstrings: the "octonionic" symmetries that may explain the very existence of the universe.
About the Author(s)
Ian Stewart is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick and Director of its Mathematics Awareness Centre. His many books include From Here to Infinity, Nature’s Numbers, Does God Play Dice?, The Problems of Mathematics, and Letters to a Young Mathematician. His writing has appeared in New Scientist, Discover, Scientific American, and many newspapers in the U.K. and U.S. He lives in Warwick, England.
Keats may have been right all along, May 5, 2007
I have always enjoyed Professor Ian Stewart’s works for general audiences, including "Letters to a Young Mathematician" and "Flatterland", among others. In "Why Beauty Is Truth: A History of Symmetry", Stewart continues to explain seemingly esoteric and difficult mathematical topics with a clarity and humanity that illuminate not only the topics themselves, but also the people who developed them and the importance of their work to us in the present day.
In his latest book, "Why Beauty Is Truth", Stewart recounts the history of a concept most of us understand intuitively, symmetry, by describing the lives of people who made important contributions to the mathematics of this seemingly simply concept which turned out to have extraordinary implications. From the development of ancient number systems and algebra to the discovery of Lie groups, Stewart explains the mathematics and concepts in an intuitive way, sprinkling in equations when necessary, but mostly relying on his ability to imagine how a non-mathematician might best understand even the most abstract concepts, whether by example, metaphor, or even some fictional drama.
Stewart is the rare mathematician who seems equally at home with the technical aspects of his subject and its history, including the biographies of those who made important contributions. Stewart is also a fine writer and enthusiastic popularizer, showing how the development of symmetry from the beginnings of counting has led to some of the most important developments in physics, including general relativity and string theory. Math and physics enthusiasts will undoubtedly enjoy "Why Beauty Is Truth", as will the curious lay reader who enjoys new discoveries and lively, engaging and intelligent writing.