, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 447-450
Date: 09 Oct 2012

Exotic worlds: Victorian mathematics

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Opening this attractive book, we learn from a brief foreword by the well-known television journalist Adam Hart-Davis that Manchester was built almost entirely on the wealth of the cotton trade, this being no wonder if we can believe that back then ninety percent of the world’s cotton passed through the port of Liverpool. This, Hart-Davis surmises, led to a “spirit of enthusiasm” that affected the academic world, too, and so “there was more time and support for research.” The Victorian era was, after all, the heyday of the British Empire, and “the result was a splendid flowering, in areas ranging from algebra and geometry, to electromagnetism and mathematical machinery”, and so he invites the reader to join the authors “on a splendid walk through the garden of Victorian mathematics.” Overlooking the hype, this invitation deserves serious consideration and some thoughtful reflection.

After a brief overview offered by the editors, our tour begins, fittingly enough, in the traditional setti ...