Mathematics in India

Frank J. Swetz (Pennsylvania State Univ. )


Mathematics in India, Kim Plofker, 2009, 357 pp. illustrations, tables, bibliographies, hardback, $ 39.50. ISBN 978-0-691-12067-6, Princeton University Press, 41 William St., Princeton, N.J. 08540.

Reports on the history of Indian mathematics have often been clouded by emotion and chauvinism. For many years the standard reference on Indian mathematics has been Datta and Singh’s History of Hindu Mathematics: a Sourcebook originally published in the 1930s but reissued by Asia Publishing House in 1962. Since its first appearance, notable advances have been made in Sanskrit scholarship and a better understanding of ancient Indian of mathematics and its practices has been achieved. Now, Kim Plofker, historian of mathematics and Sanskrit scholar, attempts to bring the modern reader up-to-date on the historical status of Indian mathematics. In doing so she has undertaken a formidable task as available sources are limited and those that require translation from their ancient languages are often clouded by societal and ritual interpretations. Despite these challenges, Dr. Plofker has produced a scholarly, informative survey of the development of ancient India mathematics.

Within her book, a thorough discussion of Indian cosmological and astronomical calculations is presented. Mathematicians and their work are viewed through societal perspectives. The influence of Islamic scientific traditions on Hindu thought is also considered. Mathematical textual practices embedded in Sanskrit are revealed and discussed. New insights on the Kerala school of mathematics are given. Dr. Plofker attempts to show a continuous tradition of mathematical evolution in historical India. Existing scholarly theories of the development of Indian mathematics are identified and examined. Excellent research references and a supporting bibliography are included. An informative appendix on the Sanskrit language and literature assists the reader.

Mathematics in India is a scholarly, comprehensive, historical survey of Indian mathematics. It will provide a critical stepping stone for further research on the subject. The book is recommended for university libraries.


Frank Swetz, Professor Emeritus, The Pennsylvania State University

See also the MAA Review by James T. Tattersall.