Tuesday Sep 23, 2008

Book review: Symmetry, A Journey into the Patterns of Nature

Last month I was set to spend two weeks along the headwaters of the Saint Lawrence River, on holiday. Of course, this required suitable reading material. On impulse I grabbed Marcus du Sautoy's book on Symmetry from the "new books" section of one of my local libraries. The title intrigued me, although I knew nothing of the author.

My impulse was a very good one. This book is a wonderful exploration of the mathematics of symmetry. It has two strong threads, historical and personal, wonderfully interwoven. For the most part it is light on the actual mathematics, which I found somewhat disappointing (I am an electrical engineer by training, so I have a strong background in applied maths), but is very clear on the key mathematical elements, without being complex, confusing, or boring.

For me the strongest thread was historical. du Sautoy relates the past history of his discipline with great skill, and genuine enthusiasm. A close second was the more recent history, mixed with the author's own personal involvement with key figures in recent advances in the field. The combination was gripping, and a thoroughly enjoyable read. It also is very suggestive of how God has structured the universe in ways that are both understandable and incredibly creative. A highly recommend read!

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