Agnesi to Zeno

Linda Shuey, reviewer

Agnesi to Zeno, Sanderson M. Smith, 1996. 226pp. paperbound, $26.95. Key Curriculum Press, 1150 65th Street, Emeryville, CA 94608, (800)-995-6284 or


Agnesi To Zeno is a great book to use if you want to get your students interested in the history of math. There are one hundred eight vignettes depicting various people, places, and things having to do with the making of what we know today as mathematics. The contents pages gives a brief description for each vignette and the vignettes are arranged in chronological order to make it easy to select those relevant to concepts being taught in the classroom. The author also provides suggestions on how to use the book in the classroom.

Written with the secondary student in mind, Agnesi To Zeno could also be used in upper elementary school and middle school as well as at the college level as an introduction to some of the topics in the history of mathematics. Most of the vignettes are two pages in length; a few are longer. They generally have a one-page description and a second page that includes activities and a list of related resources for further reading or study on the subject. Other related vignettes are listed at the bottom of the first page of each vignette.

As a secondary teacher, I have used parts of vignettes from this book as a hook in introducing various topics in my mathematics classes. For instance, I use portions from vignettes #1: The Unknown Origin of Counting, #12: Ideal and Irrational Numbers, #21: African Number Systems and Symbolism, #24, The Concept of Zero, #29: The Long History of Negative Numbers, #32: The Knotty Records of the Inca, #37: The Birth of Complex Numbers, and #83: Counting and Computing Devices when I introduce the various subsets of the complex number system in my Algebra 2 classes.  Pi usually appears somewhere in any math class and vignettes #2: Ancient References to Pi, #22: Nine Chapters on Mathematical Art, #28: Hindu Mathematicians: Aryabhata and Bhaskara, and #80: Brief Pi Tales, are helpful. For logarithms, I employ parts of vignettes #39: Napier Invents Logarithms and #52: Euler and the Number e. There are many vignettes that provide information on geometry as well as other areas of mathematics.

Agnesi To Zeno is rich with enticing tidbits on the history of mathematics for both teachers and students.  I heartily recommend this book as a useful teaching tool for any teacher of mathematics.


Linda Y. Shuey, Western Albemarle H.S., Crozet, VA