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Essays on the History of Mechanics

Antonio Becchi, Massimo Corradi, Federico Foce, Orietta Pedemonte, editors
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Fernando Q. Gouvêa
, on

In history of mathematics circles, Clifford Truesdell is a name to conjure with (though some historians might want to describe such conjuring as black magic). Edoardo Benvenutto, on the other hand, is mostly unknown. Essays on the History of Mechanics is the proceedings of a conference in honor of both men, who are remembered here as historians of mechanics, and especially of the mechanics of structures. Continuum mechanics was Truesdell's research field before he reinvented himself as a historian, and his contributions to the history of the subject (not least in a book called Essays in the History of Mechanics, published by Springer in 1964) were significant. Benvenutto, whose best known book is An Introduction to the History of Structural Mechanics (Springer, 1991) is the founder of a school of research on the history of mechanics as applied to construction.

The articles are mostly by European scholars, and they are a very mixed bag. Several of them are in "history of history" style. One of them, for example, considers how historians have reacted when they discover errors in the (usually important and respected) works they are studying, with Truesdell as the star example. Other essays are specifically historical (on the history of rose windows, for example, or of timbrel vaults). Two of the essays dealt with early vector-like methods and the "parallelogram of forces". My main regret was that the book does not include bibliographies of the work of either honoree. Not, perhaps, a book to buy, but it'd be nice to find it in a library.

Fernando Q. Gouvêa is the editor of MAA Reviews.

Truesdell and the History of the Theory of Structures.- Development of Studies in the History of Elasticity Theory and Structural Mechanics.- Coping With Error in the History of Mechanics.- The Development of the Deformation Method.- The Mechanics of Timbrel Vaults.- The Use of a Particular Form of the Parallelogram Law of Forces for the Building of Vaults.- Rose Windows.- Early Theories of Vectors.- The Slow and Tortuous Development of 'Newtonian' Principles of Motion in the Eighteenth Century.- A Historical Survey of Impact Theories.- What Can the Historian of Science Learn from the Historian of Fine Arts?