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Stamping Through Mathematics

Tim Keenan, reviewer

Stamping Through Mathematics, Robin J. Wilson, 2001. 126 pages, illustrations, $29.95 hardcover. ISBN 0-387-98949-8. Springer-Verlag New York, Inc, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. (800) 777-4643. .


Stamping Through Mathematics is a delightful tour of the history of Mathematics that is wonderfully illustrated by a colorful collection of stamps from countries around the world. Every pair of facing pages presents a separate topic with a succinct description on one page and a selection of relevant stamps on the other. Each topic addresses the contributions made by a particular era, culture, or individual to the development of mathematical concepts or the relation of mathematics to various areas of human enterprise and interest. This organization of the book is excellently suited to cover the broad scope of mathematics in small, easily digested passages that encourage casual reading and capture the reader’s interest. Robin Wilson’s writing is masterful in the way it provides so much information in so few words. The accompanying stamps are well indexed and demonstrate the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

Some of the things I most enjoyed in this book were the descriptions of salient contributions made by virtually every major mathematician, and of many scientists, but also those of notables from other fields of human endeavor like nurse Florence Nightingale and U.S. President James Garfield. I also enjoyed the many interesting stamp collections such as the frontispiece of Nicaraguan stamps depicting the ten mathematical formulae that changed the face of the earth. A wall poster of this collection would provide a colorful and educational display in secondary school classrooms. Finally the diversity of topics included, such as perspective in Renaissance art, map making, navigational instruments, calendars, quantum mechanics, relativity, nature, games, code-breaking, computing, and geometries in Modern art shows the pervasive occurrence of mathematics in so many aspects of life.

Stamping Through Mathematics is a pleasant and informative read for anyone with an interest in mathematics or mathematicians. It is also an excellent introductory book for the student of mathematics to gain an appreciation for the origins, originators, and concepts of the different fields within this subject. The style and content of the book especially recommends it for use by students in secondary schools, or higher, who have an interest or requirement to know the major milestones of mathematics history. The easily read descriptions not only provide excellent summaries of the topics but also invite further exploration by the tempted reader. Every school library should have a copy of this fascinating book.

Tim Keenan, Mathematics Teacher, Osbourn Park High School, Prince William County, Virginia

See also the MAA Review.

Tim Keenan, reviewer, "Stamping Through Mathematics," Convergence (July 2007)