submited by

Style Pass

“The Secret Lives of Numbers,” by Kate Kitagawa and Timothy Revell, highlights overlooked contributions to the field by ancient thinkers, non-Westerners and women.

Mathematics has been described as the longest continuous human thought. This thought is typically said to have been held most effectively by Western mathematicians and mainly by men. The narrative supporting this notion regards mathematics as having its origins in ancient Greece, and the mathematics done in other early cultures as peripheral — barbarian science or “ethnomathematics,” even though non-Western thinkers often practiced math that was more advanced than what Europeans knew.

In “The Secret Lives of Numbers,” Kate Kitagawa, a mathematics historian, and Timothy Revell, a science writer, intend by reasoned and scholarly means to overthrow the “assumption that the European way of doing things is superior.”

Their book begins with prehistoric counting methods (one of the earliest was based on the number 60, unlike our own base-10 system) and goes on to the fourth-century Alexandrian women Pandrosion, a geometer who solved the difficult problem of doubling the volume of a cube (ancient mathematicians lacked the algebra that makes this straightforward), and Hypatia, who wrote mathematical commentaries, including on Apollonius’ “Conics,” an investigation of circles, ellipses and other shapes. Kitagawa and Revell speculate that Johannes Kepler, who described the orbits of the planets in the 17th century, may have been influenced by her contributions.

Read more nytimes.com/...