Reviews for Enlightening SymbolsFrom Fourmilab, John Walker's Fourmilab Change Log
This book is a treasure chest of information about how the language of science came to be. We encounter a host of characters along the way, not just great mathematicians and scientists, but scoundrels, master forgers, chauvinists, those who preserved precious manuscripts and those who burned them, all leading to the symbolic language in which we so effortlessly write and do mathematics today. From AMS Notices
by Robyn Arianrhod At whatever depth one chooses to read it, Enlightening Symbols has something for everyone. It is entertaining and eclectic, and Mazur’s personal and easy style helps connect us with those who led the long and winding search for the best ways to quantify and analyze our world. Their success has liberated us from “the shackles of our physical impressions of space”—and of the particular and the concrete—“enabling imagination to wander far beyond the tangible world we live in, and into the marvels of generality” [ p. 154]. From The HeraldTribune
by Donal O'Shea The book is visually exquisite, great care having been taken with illustrations and figures. Mazur's discussion of the emergence of particular symbols affords the reader an overview of the often difficult primary literature. He carefully explains the relative advantages and disadvantages of different notations, allowing readers to see how good notation opens up new realms of thought. Although the book can be enjoyed at many levels, it will most reward those who have some memory of high school algebra and beginning calculus. I can't imagine any reader, however inattentive, escaping without learning a good deal of history and mathematics. For me, the biggest takeaway is the intellectual debt that every human being, no matter in what society, owes to those who went before. From Mathematical Association of America
by Tushar Das Mazur does an excellent job of weaving together a wonderful culturallyrich tapestry, within which he threads the evolution of mathematical notation. His theme is a “tough sell” and therefore the Guggenheim Foundation and his publishers at Princeton University Press should be commended for supporting such an endeavor. From Ricochet
by John Walker This book, written with the extensive source citations of a scholarly work yet accessible to any reader familiar with arithmetic and basic algebra, traces the often murky origins of this essential part of our intellectual heritage…. This book is a treasure chest of information about how the language of science came to be. We encounter a host of characters along the way, not just great mathematicians and scientists, but scoundrels, master forgers, chauvinists, those who preserved precious manuscripts and those who burned them, all leading to the symbolic language in which we so effortlessly write and do mathematics today. From Leonardo, Phil Dyke
From the outset let me say that this is a good book. It is well written by an experienced author and is full of interesting facts about how the symbols used in mathematics have arisen. It would certainly interest anyone who studies the history of mathematics. Even for the enthusiast, however, there is danger as the topic lends itself to being a list of facts. This author avoids this trap mostly through his engaging style but also by breaking the book into short chapters, 24 of them, and avoiding being completely chronological. The first collection of chapters concerns the origins of the numerals themselves, some origins are of course shrouded in obscurity and controversy, and where this is the case the alternatives are honestly treated by the author. The second collection is about algebra and is consequently more about the culture of development and use. This contains a wealth of information and strays into anthropology and religion including more of the beliefs of the author. Researching some of the origins of algebra remains an active area and new forensic techniques are helping to disentangle who did what when. The third and final section on the power of symbols is more philosophical and, dare I say, a little bit selfindulgent. It is still a good read though. From Science Magazine
by Gaia Donati Joseph Mazur’s Enlightening Symbols: A Short History of Mathematical Notation and Its Hidden Powers is a figurative cabinet rich with such curiosities. However, the book is more than a collection of fun facts about mathematics and the evolution of its language.... As Mazur sets out to address such easily overlooked aspects, he also reaffirms their relevance, showing how rich and complex the topic is.... It is gripping to read about the contributions, big or small, of so many human minds—from real gamechangers such as René Descartes, Gottfried Leibniz, and Isaac Newton to lessfamiliar names such as Robert Recorde (who introduced our equal sign) and François Viète (who used dedicated letters to designate knowns and unknowns in a polynomial equation, an idea later formalized by Descartes).... Thanks to Mazur’s playful approach to the subject, Enlightening Symbols offers an enjoyable read. Click here for full review in Science From Nature
by George Sziro This is a nuanced, intelligently framed chronicle packed with nuggets — such as the fact that Hindus, not Arabs, introduced Arabic numerals. In a word: enlightening. For the full review go to Reviews on this site From Publisher's Weekly
Mazur (Euclid in the Rainforest) gives readers the fascinating history behind the mathematical symbols we use, and completely take for granted, every day. Mathematical notation turns numbers into sentences—or, to the uninitiated, a mysterious and impenetrable code. Mazur says the story of math symbols begins some 3,700 years ago, in ancient Babylon, where merchants incised tallies of goods on cuneiform tablets, along with the first place holder—a blank space. Many early cultures used letters for both numbers and an alphabet, but convenient objects like rods, fingers, and abacus beads, also proved popular. Mazur shows how our “modern” system began in India, picking up the numeral “zero” on its way to Europe, where it came into common use in the 16th century, thanks to travelers and merchants as well as mathematicians like Fibonacci. Signs for addition, subtraction, roots, and equivalence followed, but only became standardized through the influence of scientists and mathematicians like René Descartes and Gottfried Leibniz. Mazur’s lively and accessible writing makes what could otherwise be a dry, arcane history as entertaining as it is informative. From The Guardian
If you enjoy reading about history, languages and science, then you'll enjoy this book. Basically, the author explores where all those mathematical symbols came from, starting with counting numbers and algebraic symbols and ending with the primary operators of modern maths. Even more interesting (to me at least), the author also discusses how symbols affect and inspire mathematical thought. In addition to diagrams, a useful doublepage timeline is inset between Parts 1 and 2 that describes the significant initiators, starting with Plato's Academy in 500 BC and progressing upwards past Newton's Principia in 1687 AD. The best part is the writing is compelling enough that you don't have to be a mathematician to enjoy this informative book. From Library Journal
The author surveys the work of earlier investigators and, where there is disagreement, gives fair weight to the different competing conjectures. For algebraic symbolism, Mazur nicely summarizes the historic record, which is much shorter and therefore less open to controversy. Today, this notation seems so natural that it is hard to imagine doing mathematical work without it. Mazur emphasizes the strength of the system, describing how, once expressed in its algebraic form, problems seem to solve themselves and even to suggest areas for further research. The concluding chapters discuss how the latest developments in cognitive science shed light on how using good notation helps to produce clear thinking. VERDICT Mazur delivers a solid exposition of an element of mathematics that is fundamental to its history. Recommended. From Leonardo, Phil Dyke From the outset let me say that this is a good book. It is well written by an experienced author and is full of interesting facts about how the symbols used in mathematics have arisen. It would certainly interest anyone who studies the history of mathematics. Even for the enthusiast, however, there is danger as the topic lends itself to being a list of facts. This author avoids this trap mostly through his engaging style but also by breaking the book into short chapters, 24 of them, and avoiding being completely chronological. The first collection of chapters concerns the origins of the numerals themselves, some origins are of course shrouded in obscurity and controversy, and where this is the case the alternatives are honestly treated by the author. The second collection is about algebra and is consequently more about the culture of development and use. This contains a wealth of information and strays into anthropology and religion including more of the beliefs of the author. Researching some of the origins of algebra remains an active area and new forensic techniques are helping to disentangle who did what when. The third and final section on the power of symbols is more philosophical and, dare I say, a little bit selfindulgent. It is still a good read though. 

