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The Works of Archimedes

Thomas L. Heath, editor
Dover Publications
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The Basic Library List Committee strongly recommends this book for acquisition by undergraduate mathematics libraries.

[Reviewed by
Fernando Q. Gouvêa
, on

When the MAA published Sherman Stein's book on Archimedes some years ago, I remember feeling frustrated that we had a useful commentary on the works of Archimedes but that the T. L. Heath translation of those works was no longer in print. Dover has just remedied the situation by bringing their edition of The Works of Archimedes back into print. This actually contains two books: Heath's translation of the surviving works of Archimedes, published in 1897, and a supplement (published in 1912) containing a translation of the recently-discovered "Method".

Heath's edition includes a long introduction (over 170 pages) discussing Archimedes' work. Then come the works themselves, translated into English and into modern mathematical notation. The appendix containing the "Method" has the same structure.

There are two issues surrounding this translation that might bother historians. The first has to do with Heath's decision to modernize the notation. This makes the text easier to read, but sometimes leaves the reader wondering exactly what Archimedes actually wrote. The second has to do with the underlying Greek text: with the recent reappearance of the manuscript containing the "Method" and the increase in knowledge about textual criticism, we are probably at the point where a new critical edition of the Greek text is needed.

Nevertheless, while we wait for scholars to produce a new critical edition and a more literal translation, this edition gives us access to the works of one of the greatest mathematicians of all time.

Fernando Q. Gouvêa is the editor of MAA Reviews.


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