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Famous Problems and Their Mathematicians

Frank Swetz, reviewer

Famous Problems and Their Mathematicians, Art Johnson, 1999.179 pp., illustrations, reproducible worksheets, bibliography, $24 paper. ISBN 1-56308-446-5. Teacher Ideas Press, Greenwood Publishing Group, 7730 East Belleview Avenue, Greenwood Village, CO 80111. (800) 225-5800,

What a wonderful book!  Art Johnson is an award winning mathematics teacher who has used the history of mathematics in his teaching for many years.  In this book, he shares both his experiences and enthusiasm in bringing the history of mathematics into the classroom.  Mathematics teachers are always seeking “good problems” for their students.  Art Johnson supplies a resource for this need by compiling a series of 61 worksheets, each focused on a particular problem and related to a particular historical mathematical personality.  In using these materials, a student learns something about mathematics, problem solving and the history of mathematics.  The problems are well chosen and diverse.  Many are non-routine and will challenge their readers.  Although chosen to suit the learning needs of students in grades 5 – 12, a few exercises may be a little ambitious for this audience.  The historical vignettes are interesting and well written.  Even a reader jaded in the history of mathematics will find many fascinating facts here – I never knew Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576) wrote the first psychology book.  Illustrations are clear and effective.  A Time Line of 86 historical mathematicians is provided, listing their dates, nationalities or region of origin and cross-referencing them to the appropriate problems discussed.  The universal nature of mathematical activity is made obvious.  “Teachers Pages” are provided for further understanding and enrichment. 

This is an excellent classroom teaching resource.  Its use will benefit both students and teachers.  I most highly recommend it!

Frank Swetz
Professor Emeritus
The Pennsylvania State University

Frank Swetz, reviewer, "Famous Problems and Their Mathematicians," Convergence (July 2007)