King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry

King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry

by Siobhan Roberts

"There is perhaps no better way to prepare for the scientific breakthroughs of tomorrow than to learn the language of geometry." Brian Greene, author of The Elegant UniverseThe word "geometry" brings to mind an array of mathematical images: circles, triangles, the Pythagorean Theorem.

And as Siobhan Roberts elegantly conveys in The King of Infinite Space, there can be no better guide to the majesty of geometry than Donald Coxeter, perhaps the greatest geometer of the twentieth century.Many of the greatest names in intellectual historyPythagoras, Plato, Archimedes, Euclid were geometers, and their creativity and achievements illuminate those of Coxeter, revealing geometry to be a living, ever-evolving endeavor, an intellectual adventure that has always been a building block of civilization.

The King of Infinite Space is an elegant portal into the fascinating, arcane world of geometry.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Science
  • Rating: 3.74
  • Pages: 320
  • Publish Date: September 19th 2006 by Walker Books
  • Isbn10: 0802714994
  • Isbn13: 9780802714992

What People Think about "King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry"

I usually pick up biographies to gain insight on subject matter with which I am not wholly familiar, learn background and historical context of those whose ideas and accomplishments I admire, or simply be inspired by or vicariously enjoy the subject's presumably impressive achievements. Ironically, because this book largely lacked accompanying illustrations to operationalize how his diagrams, groups, kaleidoscopes, etc. A Brit born into privilege in London in 1907, Coxeter grew up in relative social isolation imposed largely by his interest in music and math (steered toward the latter as he was deemed by the likes of Holst and Stanford to show no particular compositional talent); followed the usual academic trajectory of college, grad school, fellowship, minor paper publication, placement at and ultimate university tenure (at the unremarkable University of Toronto), and a career teaching classes, attending conferences and symposia, writing papers and compiling these into textbooks; and remained professionally productive in this way until his death in 2003. He was a teenager during WWI, had to enter the workforce at the height of the Great Depression, was an accomplished mathematician who would know many of the players in the Manhattan Project, and a teaching professional during the strife of Vietnam, etc., and yet appears touched by none of these events, living a life almost entirely devoid of drama. As the author writes, "mathematical traditions usually do not reside in isolated individuals." Yet, the University of Toronto apparently has plenty of company among the world's academic institutions in choosing "not to invest in the future of classical geometry." (p. All I can say is that if in fact Coxeter wrote the book on classical geometry, and if that's what you're interested in, then pick up one of those books instead of this pointless biography.

Roberts is a fine writer, and I enjoyed reading her stories about Coxeter: his history, his work, the people he influenced. Many of the endnotes (probably a majority) are citations of source, but some are substantial expositions that perhaps would have worked better as either footnotes, or should have been incorporated into the main text.

La traduzione è scorrevole, anche se a pagina 277 il cerchio di cui si parla è "dei" (non "a") nove punti: ma è anche vero che non fa parte del curriculum di geometria che ti insegnano a scuola o all'università.

I adored Simon Singh's book, "Fermat's Enigma", and expected this to be similar. While his formal training does have substantial differences from pure number theory, he understands the ideas behind Fermat's Last Theorem very well and can express them in a way that non-professionals can understand.

As I grew up in Toronto and was a student who took several courses in the Math department at UofT I found it interesting how Coxeter had in various ways indirectly affected my own life. Father Wenninger corresponded with Coxeter and is mentioned in the book, however you need to delve into the End Notes to get more of the details. Coxeter's life message would be about the importance of diagrams and visual geometry as a foundation of Western intellectual thought. He apparently disliked computers and never learned how to use one though there is one short excerpt that says that he set a problem for his calculator - either it was a TI programmable, or he did a combinatorial calculation and had a great deal of faith that it hadn't died on him as it worked out the answer overnight. What I find paradoxical about this is that towards the end of his life (and he was quite active) some of the most interesting descriptive work in geometry was in computer generated graphics for GIS, Engineering and Film.

She has won a few National Magazine Awardswriting about the river of dust at the National Archives in Ottawa, the occasion when the FBI came calling at Winnipegs level-4 National Microbiology Laboratory, and Donald Coxeters final journey, to a geometry conference in Budapest at the age of ninety-three.