, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 407-412
Date: 28 Oct 2010

Just one damn thing after another

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This forbiddingly large encyclopedia claims to cover all of mathematical and natural science from the very beginnings of human thought—though, true to the spirit of the original Greek meaning of the word ‘encyclopedia’, it encompasses aspects of human thought more general than mathematics and science—including theology, for example. It is, in this way, more of a history of the world. Not surprisingly then, it is something of a beast, comprising six very hefty volumes spanning 6,000 pages. The aim, as Ben-Menahem puts it, is to provide a “comprehensive treatise that blends the essential historical data (chronology, biographies, major background political and economical events, etc.) together with science proper (principles, laws, experiments, observations, theories, equations, etc.)” presenting to the “the reader not only who did it and when it was done but also precisely what was done” (volume 1, xv).

Ben-Menahem’s approach is purely chronological; history is presented as just one damn