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Math Art: Truth, Beauty, and Equations

Stephen Ornes
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The Basic Library List Committee suggests that undergraduate mathematics libraries consider this book for acquisition.

[Reviewed by
Tom French
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This book provides the reader with a tantalizing display of art produced by “mathematicians who are artists” or is it “artists who are mathematicians”?   Ornes presents us with the beauty in the marriage between mathematics and art. The art presented is astonishingly beautiful while the range of mathematics that inspired the art is astounding.  A vast array of mathematical topics inspired the art including those which we might expect such as \(\pi\), the golden ratio, fractals, and hyperbolic geometry while some unexpected topics such as “the traveling salesman problem”, the Fibonacci Series, squaring the circle, and aleph-null inspired other pieces of art.  In addition to the topics just mentioned, an extensive lineup of topics included in this book include: transcendental numbers, topology, the Pythagorean theorem, set theory, Archimedean solids, minimal surfaces, and Lissajous curves. This list is not complete but should provide you with an idea of the topics which inspired the art addressed in this book.   

Ornes explains in his introduction that he wants to follow three rules in writing his book: 1) focus on art with rigorous mathematical backbone, 2) write about the art, and 3) focus on living artists.  He has done an admirable job of meeting these objectives. In addition, he has presented the mathematics in a way which is both rigorous and accessible to all.

The topics in the book are not arranged in any particular chronological order.  So, one can skip around while reading the book. One may start reading this book in Chapter One, and then skip ahead to Chapter Fourteen next, and then back to Chapter Seven without fear of missing some vital connection.  Each chapter is self-contained. I found myself skipping around in the book following the art which I found most attractive.

The mathematics presented in this text is certainly accessible to the non-mathematician.  You will find an occasional formula interspersed amongst the text. Each mathematical topic is presented in a delightful story-telling approach which includes a rich history of the mathematics and people behind the concept.  While discussing the mathematics behind the art, the emphasis remains on the art and the artist.

This book is a must for those who teach math courses for the non-mathematician.  This book readily serves as an ancillary reference for both the student and the professor in a course such as Liberal Arts Mathematics.  It also addresses the topic often discussed in History & Philosophy of Mathematics Courses which is: “Do we invent mathematics or do we merely discover the mathematics that is already there?”   I heartily recommend this book as a source for those teaching courses in Art Appreciation. I can’t imagine a complete course in the appreciation of the arts without including the topic of Math Art.

Some of the sculptures presented in this book are interactive and moveable.  Obviously presenting the movement in a book is not possible. Ornes provides the reader with an online reference to watch videos of such art.

Math Art: Truth, Beauty, and Equations is a welcome addition to my library for both being a source for a large variety of mathematical topics as well as a source of beautifully presented art.

Tom French has a B.S. and M.S. degree in Mathematics from Minnesota State University, Mankato.  He has 35 years of engineering and business experience with UNIVAC and its successor companies.  He has lectured on mathematics and computers throughout the world and taught mathematics at a number of US colleges and universities. In addition, he has taught secondary school mathematics.







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