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Mathematics and Culture II: Visual Perfection: Mathematics and Creativity

Michele Emmer, editor
Springer Verlag
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Donald L. Vestal
, on

This is the second volume of collected essays on mathematics and its relation to culture. While the first volume (as this review indicates) seemed to be all over the map, this volume, a little over half as long, is slightly more focused. It is divided into three topics:

Mathematics, Art and Architecture,

Visual Mathematics and Computer Graphics,

Mathematics, Literature and Cinema.

And, much like the first volume, the quality of the essays varies greatly. In a few, the wording is awkward. In some, the mathematics is nominal. But there are a few essays which stand out, at least from a mathematician’s point of view.

Fractal: A Resonance between Art and Nature provides some fractal analysis of Jackson Pollack paintings and Rorschach-type ink blots. The essay is mostly expository, and the math is minimal, but it still makes for an interesting read.

Math Awareness Month 2000: An Interactive Experience details the development of the promotional material for Math Awareness Month in April 2000. The topic was “Math Spans All Dimensions,” and the interactive website/poster is located here.

Visual Topology and Variational Problems on Two-Dimensional Surfaces is the most technical essay in the book, and probably the most mathematically interesting. The authors discuss soap bubbles, minimal surfaces, Steiner points, and extreme networks. The essay contains two lemmas and seven theorems but no proofs.

Publication of Electronic Geometry Models describes this website, which serves as an electronic warehouse of geometric models.

In Eulid’s Poetics: An examination of the similarity between narrative and proof, Apostolos Doxiadis (author of Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture ) gives an interesting comparison the literary archetype of the hero on a quest striving for some goal with the activity of the mathematician on a search for a proof/solution.

The last three essays, The Rise of Narrative Non-Fiction, Mathematics Takes Center Stage, and Mathematics and Raymond Queneau, deal with the increasing visibility of mathematics in fiction and nonfiction.

To borrow the words of the reviewer of the first volume, this collection is another hodgepodge.

Donald L. Vestal is Assistant Professor of Mathematics at South Dakota State University. His interests include number theory, combinatorics, spending time with his family, and working on his hot sauce collection. He can be reached at Donald.Vestal(AT)