The Secret Lives of Numbers: A Hidden History of Math's Unsung Trailblazers (Hardcover)
A new history of mathematics focusing on the marginalized voices who propelled the discipline, spanning six continents and thousands of years of untold stories.
Mathematics shapes almost everything we do. But despite its reputation as the study of fundamental truths, the stories we have been told about it are wrong—warped like the sixteenth-century map that enlarged Europe at the expense of Africa, Asia and the Americas. In The Secret Lives of Numbers, renowned math historian Kate Kitagawa and journalist Timothy Revell make the case that the history of math is infinitely deeper, broader, and richer than the narrative we think we know.
Our story takes us from Hypatia, the first great female mathematician, whose ideas revolutionized geometry and who was killed for them—to Karen Uhlenbeck, the first woman to win the Abel Prize, “math’s Nobel.” Along the way we travel the globe to meet the brilliant Arabic scholars of the “House of Wisdom,” a math temple whose destruction in the Siege of Baghdad in the thirteenth century was a loss arguably on par with that of the Library of Alexandria; Madhava of Sangamagrama, the fourteenth-century Indian genius who uncovered the central tenets of calculus 300 years before Isaac Newton was born; and the Black mathematicians of the Civil Rights era, who played a significant role in dismantling early data-based methods of racial discrimination.
Covering thousands of years, six continents, and just about every mathematical discipline, The Secret Lives of Numbers is an immensely compelling narrative history.
About the Author
Kate Kitagawa is one of the world’s leading experts on the history of mathematics. She has taught at the University of Oxford and Harvard University and held research positions at UC Berkeley, University of Cambridge, and the Max Planck Institute. She is currently Director of the Space Education Office (Space Education Center) at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
Timothy Revell is a science journalist and lapsed mathematician who currently works as the Deputy US Editor at New Scientist. He appears regularly on the BBC radio show The Naked Scientists, answering listener questions about mathematics.
"Kitagawa and Revell do an excellent job of broadening our view to the far more vibrant, collaborative, diverse, and interesting history [of mathematics]. ... Mathematics is the most powerful tool humans ever invented, and this book is a welcome corrective to our understanding of how it came to be." — Booklist (starred review)
“A fine history of mathematics that seeks to decouple it from its traditional Eurocentric focus…A solid corrective to a host of misunderstandings about math.” — Kirkus Reviews
"A delightful journey through some of the lesser-known highways and byways of mathematics that brings to the fore the many fascinating figures who have been unjustly forgotten." — Ananyo Bhattacharya, author of The Man from the Future
"Kitagawa and Revell are good at explaining difficult concepts. . . . Secret Lives is at its most satisfying when it balances the connection between the complex maths, the lives of mathematicians and the impact their work has had on the real world. . . . Modern technology is built on the work of those who pursued math for maths' sake. This book is a clever tribute to those brilliant, if sometimes erratic, lives." — Sunday Times (London)