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Tartaglia's Science of Weights and Mechanics in the Sixteenth Century

Raffaele Pisano and Danilo Capecchi
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
History of Mechanism and Machine Science 28
[Reviewed by
Charles Ashbacher
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The and personal conflict between Niccolo Tartaglia and Gerolamo Cardano over priority in the solution of the cubic equation is the most widely known of the mathematical accomplishments of Tartaglia. Yet he achieved many other significant things. For example, he authored what is considered the best arithmetic book published in Europe in the sixteenth century. Tartaglia was also the first to translate what was even then the classic “Euclid’s Elements” into a modern European language. It was one of the first major moves to replace Latin as the language of education and learning. Less widely known is the scientific and engineering work performed by Tartaglia.

There is no question that the ancients possessed an enormous amount of practical engineering knowledge; one look at the Egyptian pyramids will tell you that. While incredibly practical, there was limited scientific or mathematical understanding behind it. Tartaglia’s work in the sixteenth century did a great deal to establish the mathematical and scientific foundations of engineering. He wrote a great deal of material regarding this growing understanding. Those writings are the focus of this book.

There are three main parts. The first is a short history of Tartaglia’s life as well as the historical, mathematical and scientific contexts within which he worked. It was a time of great transition, with the Renaissance fully underway with a flowering of new and rediscovered learning. Old beliefs, facts and dogmas were being overturned and replaced, so Tartaglia’s achievements cannot be completely understood without knowing the environment within which he worked. The editors do an excellent job of explaining the context within which these great scientific advancements were achieved.

The second and third sections are generally a republication of some of Tartaglia’s major work. The page on the left side is a facsimile of the original while the page on the right side is an English translation. This is valuable for scholars as well as teachers of the history of math and science. It is very educational for a student of math and science to read the original work on occasion and see how the ideas and principles of math and science were developed and perfected.

If you are a teacher of mathematical history and are interested in including material about the work of Tartaglia in your course or in your research, this book is what you are looking for. It is very well sourced, giving you directions for an even deeper exploration of this fascinating topic. The reading takes you back to a time when the practical knowledge to build great things such as pyramids was being codified into the theoretical foundations we know today. 

Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, and teaching college classes. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.