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James Joseph Sylvester: Jewish Mathematician in a Victorian World

Gail Kaplan, reviewer

Jewish Mathematician in a Victorian World by Karen Hunger Parshall, 2006, 461+xiiipp. ISBN 0-8018-8291-5, hardcover, $69.95 The Johns Hopkins University Press, 28715 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21218-4363,

The book begins as James Joseph Sylvester, an internationally renowned mathematician, speaks at the first anniversary of Johns Hopkins University where he is a faculty member.  " 'An eloquent mathematician,' he told them within moments of opening his remarks, 'must , from the nature of things, ever remain as rare a phenomenon as a talking fish, and it is certain that the more anyone gives himself up to the study of oratorical effect the less will he find himself in a fit state of mind to mathematize.' "    Karen Parshall's scholarly work on Sylvester is not only an in depth biographical study, but also a good resource for the history of both mathematics and science during the Victorian period.  The writing style is superb, an utter delight to read.  Even the titles of individual sections are well written.  For example, "A Roving Mathematical Eye," describes years when Sylvester's research was not focused.  Wonderful quotes from archival sources add spice to the reading.

 This book is an exceptional example of scholarly research; there are over one hundred pages of notes to support the text.  However, the in depth presentation is for the true mathematical historian.  Although I enjoyed the writing style, it was a challenging read due to the abundance of detail.  I recommend the text for scholarly pursuits.

Gail Kaplan, Associate Professor, Towson University,MD

See also the MAA Review by David M. Bressoud.



Gail Kaplan, reviewer, "James Joseph Sylvester: Jewish Mathematician in a Victorian World," Convergence (July 2007)