Is God a Mathematician?

Mario Livio’s Is God a Mathematician? is a first-rate book, so why are there so many negative reviews of it on Amazon? The best answer, I suppose, is that there are always negative reviews on Amazon; any given book can’t be all things to all people, so some readers aren’t going to like it. In particular, readers who think that the title is picked by the author rather than the publisher may be disappointed when the title promises more than the author can deliver. In this case you’re not going to get an answer to the explicitly asked question; what you’re going to get is an entertaining history of math with a fascinating admixture of science and philosophy. So of course you’re not going to like the book if you’re looking for a little light reading or if you’re looking for something about religion. But don’t worry — it’s still leisure reading, not a textbook.

Livio is an eminent astrophysicist with a deep knowledge and understanding of mathematics. In this book he focuses on the question of whether math is discovered or invented. Why does mathematics describe the universe so well? To explore possible answers to this question — an all-so-human question — you will want to know something about the mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers who have pondered it. Livio provides sufficient biographical anecdotes to satisfy this desire.

You definitely don’t have to be a mathematician to enjoy Is God a Mathematician? and to get a lot out of it. The accounts of Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Archimedes, Galileo, Newton, Russell, Gödel, etc….these liven up what would otherwise be a purely academic treatise. So pay no attention to those negative reviews (which actually are outnumbered by the positive ones, for what that’s worth); just read the book.

Categories: Books, Math, Teaching & Learning