Mathematics and Physics

Review: North, Cosmos

August 20, 2008
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Review: North, Cosmos

The August 16 edition of the Guardian published a short but positive review of John D. North’s Cosmos: An Illustrated History of Astronomy and Cosmology. The review praises the book for its comprehensive exploration of these two sciences, and their integral role in helping mankind to define his place within the universe. From the Guardian: At nearly 900 pages, this is a suitably monumental book about the biggest subject of all: the cosmos.… From Stonehenge and ancient China, where sunspots were first recorded in 28BC (European astronomers didn’t spot them until the 17th century), to today’s search for dark matter, Machos and Wimps, this remarkable work brings together the global history, theories, people and technologies of astronomy to tell a story that “has very few intellectual parallels in the whole of human history.” See the review on the Guardian website. . . .

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Press Release: Ekeland, The Best of All Possible Worlds

November 2, 2007
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Press Release: Ekeland, The Best of All Possible Worlds

Now available in paperback—Optimists believe this is the best of all possible worlds. And pessimists fear that might really be the case. But what is the best of all possible worlds? How do we define it? Is it the world that operates the most efficiently? Or the one in which most people are comfortable and content? Questions such as these have preoccupied philosophers and theologians for ages, but there was a time, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when scientists and mathematicians felt they could provide the answer. This book is their story. Ivar Ekeland here takes the reader on a journey through scientific attempts to envision the best of all possible worlds. He begins with the French physicist Maupertuis, whose least action principle asserted that everything in nature occurs in the way that requires the least possible action. This idea, Ekeland shows, was a pivotal breakthrough in mathematics, because it was the first expression of the concept of optimization, or the creation of systems that are the most efficient or functional. Tracing the profound impact of optimization and the unexpected ways in which it has influenced the study of mathematics, biology, economics, and even politics, Ekeland reveals throughout how . . .

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Review: Ekeland, The Best of All Possible Worlds

January 3, 2007
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Review: Ekeland, The Best of All Possible Worlds

Joseph Mazur, a professor of mathematics at the University of Marlborough, published a review today of Ivar Ekeland’s newest book The Best of all Possible Worlds: Mathematics and Destiny in the international journal of science, Nature. In his review, Mazur praises the book for its fascinating exploration of the work of eighteenth-century French intellectual Maupertuis, a philosopher and physicist whose ideas—as Mazur notes—continue to have a profound impact in both fields to this day. Mazur writes: The eighteenth-century French philosopher Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis gave us the principle of least action: in all natural phenomena, a quantity called ‘action’—for him, the product of mass, distance travelled and velocity—tends to be minimized. In his view, God, being the supreme mathematician, had created the “best of all possible worlds” by insisting that everything in it obey the principle of least action, an economy of effort—a metaphysical rule designed to support the laws of mechanics. In The Best of All Possible Worlds, Ivar Ekeland skillfully traces the historical developments of de Maupertuis’ principle as it matured from a metaphysical directive in physical two- or three-dimensional space to a mathematical principle in a conceptual space where the action is not just minimized but stopped . . .

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Review: Morus, When Physics Became King

April 14, 2006
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Review: Morus, When Physics Became King

The April issue of Physics Today features a glowing review of Iwan Rhys Morus’s When Physics Became King. Reviewer Robert M. Brain wrote: "Excellent.… A few good histories of physics during that remarkable age exist—but none as readable or comprehensive as Morus’s superb book." When Physics Became King traces the emergence of this revolutionary science, demonstrating how a discipline that barely existed in 1800 came to be regarded a century later as the ultimate key to unlocking nature’s secrets. A cultural history designed to provide a big-picture view, the book ably ties advances in the field to the efforts of physicists who worked to win social acceptance for their research. . . .

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Robert J. Zimmer nominated to serve as president of the U of C

March 9, 2006
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Robert J. Zimmer nominated to serve as president of the U of C

The Presidential Search Committee of the University of Chicago has just announced that Robert J. Zimmer has been nominated to serve as president of the University of Chicago. Zimmer is a mathematician and former University of Chicago faculty member. He currently serves as provost at Brown University. The Board of Trustees is expected to approve the recommendation on Friday. Zimmer would then succeed Don Michael Randel as thirteenth president of the University of Chicago. Zimmer is the author of Essential Results of Functional Analysis. Functional analysis is a broad mathematical area with strong connections to many domains within mathematics and physics. This book, based on a first-year graduate course taught by Robert J. Zimmer at the University of Chicago, is a complete, concise presentation of fundamental ideas and theorems of functional analysis. It introduces essential notions and results from many areas of mathematics to which functional analysis makes important contributions, and it demonstrates the unity of perspective and technique made possible by the functional analytic approach. . . .

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