Euclid in the Rainforest: Discovering Universal Truth in Logic and Math


Euclid in the Rainforest is a Finalist for the PEN: Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction. Also, It has been selected as an Outstanding Academic Titles of the Year 2005 by the library journal "Choice."

“Logic as an academic and intellectual discipline can be overwhelming and dry. But writing with the general reader or undergraduate student in mind, Mazur (mathematics, Marlboro Coll.) successfully explores how mathematical logic and proof are essential building blocks to understanding knowledge and universal truths. In brief chapters, he draws on the philosophy and geometry of the ancient Greeks and incorporates historical vignettes and personal narratives to examine the three types of logic (classical logic, plausible reasoning, and infinity) that we use to determine whether something is true.

Mazur clearly demonstrates how the validity of arguments and truthfulness can be revealed through the rules of logic, debate, and the principals of mathematics. Although there are some simple diagrams and figures, his text is devoid of complex proofs and dense mathematical language; instead, the author has drawn upon his experiences as a formative teacher to create a book rich in content that connects with real-world experiences. Suitable for large public and academic libraries.”
--Library Journal

“In Euclid in the Rainforest, one can see Euclid as a metaphor for the sterile and the methodical--the logical, but mechanistic stacking of proven result upon proven result to arrive at an end that is unassailable by anyone, anywhere, anytime. On the other hand, the rainforest conjures up complexity, richness, unexpected sightings and multiple pathways to the clearing called ‘clarity.’ In Joseph Mazur’s book, you find these metaphors juxtaposed. Readers become the traveling companions of someone part geek and part Indiana Jones; it is an enjoyable trip.”
--Science and Theology News

“This charming book radiates love of mathematics... and of life. Mazur (mathematics, Marlboro College) weaves elementary explanations of a wide range of essential mathematical ideas into narratives of his far-ranging travels. Trekking into the rainforest of Venezuela, conversing in a café (cafe) in Paris, touring the Greek islands on a luxury yacht, and other adventures--they all serve as backdrops to careful treatments of the Pythagorean theorem, Boolean algebra, non-Euclidean geometry, Zeno's paradox, the Law of Large Numbers, the Continuum Hypothesis, etc. Along the way Mazur explains topics such as the difference between mathematical and scientific induction and others of metamathematical nature. The chapter subtitled ‘The Role of Intuition and Belief in Mathematics’ illustrates his approach to mathematics as more than formulas and theorems by relating the human side of Jordan's travails when proving his Curve Theorem. Another example is his historical account of the quest to prove the Parallel Axiom.

The value of the extensive bibliography is greatly enhanced by guiding comments. The index is unusually complete. This book is a treasure of human experience and intellectual excitement. One wonders how many of today's students can appreciate its value. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels.”

“Joseph Mazur does readers the great service of setting the arcane ideas and procedures of mathematics back in the world where they belong, the market-place, the smoky café, the classroom, the laboratory, the sidewalk, the sailboat, the rainforest. He reminds us how beautiful they are, how compelling, without letting us forget that they have their tragic moments as well as various lead and walk-on roles in the human comedy.”
--The Mathematical Intelligencer

“Joe Mazur holds an MIT doctorate in mathematics, but his history of the search for universal truths in logic and math has a narrative charm that will make it appealing even to the average educated reader. Euclid in the Rainforest paints a sweeping history that identifies three central ideas of logic that have guided Western thought for the past 2,500 years. By situating his theories in stories set first in the rainforests of Venezuela and then on the Mediterranean coastline, Mazur draws us into explorations that might otherwise seem hopelessly obtuse or irrelevant.”
--Editors of Barnes and Noble

"How does one summarize a book that is about rainforest adventures, probability, the Cafe Luxembourg, Euclid and prime numbers? This is an absolutely delightful book, full of insight, suffused with gentle humor--a picaresque novel of mathematics. What do we mean by proof and persuasion in the most symbolic of fields, Mazur asks, and responds with stories that effortlessly guide us to the heartland of reason. This is a fabulous book, in all senses, from beginning to end."
--Peter Galison, Mallinckrodt Professor of the History of Science and of Physics, Harvard University, and author of Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps

“My chief regret after more than 40 years of trying to teach concepts in mathematics and statistics to biology students is that I did not have Mazur's book avaliable. It should be assigned reading for all undergraduates interested in science.”
--R.C. Lewontin, Alexander Agassiz Professor, Harvard University

“Euclid in the Rainforest is beautifully written and packed with insights into how mathematicians convince themselves they are right. Joe Mazur is a talented teacher who knows his subject inside out, and his delightful stories take his readers effortlessly to the heart of mathematics--logic and proof. This original and charming book is accessible to anyone, and deserves major success.”
--Ian Stewart, author of Math Hysteria and Flatterland

"Mazur has a wonderfully engaging writing style, and a marvelous feel for the interface between the physical world as we experience it every day and the mathematical one. The book is a pleasure to read."
--Joseph Harris, Chair, Department of Mathematics, Harvard University

"Joe Mazur's Euclid in the Rainforest is written with warmth and a lifetime's attachment to the things of this world and the forms of the world it manifests. Here are the pleasures of sitting with the author, as a young man, learning his craft in a Greenwich Village cafe from an old professor; and much later on, teaching the craft in turn to an eight-year-old. Inspiring stuff. By overhearing such conversations as these, the reader too is led to savor the beauties of mathematics.”
--Robert and Ellen Kaplan, co-fournders of The Math Circle, and co-authors of The Art of the Infinite: The Pleasures of Mathematics

“Mazur is an excellent storyteller. Euclid in the Rainforest is a warm and creative masterpiece that reveals the spirit of mathematics.”
--Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of the City of Hiroshima

Selected Works

What are the chances? This is the question we ask ourselves when we encounter the freakiest and most seemingly impossible coincidences, like the woman who won the lottery four times or the fact that Lincoln’s dreams foreshadowed his own assassination.
Hardly any math symbols were used before the sixteenth century. What did mathematicians rely on for their work before then? And how did mathematical notations evolve to what we know of today? Enlightening Symbols explains the fascinating history behind the development of our current mathematical notation system, shows how symbols were used initially, how one symbol replaced another over time, and how written math was conveyed before and after symbols became widely adopted.
Princeton University Press (2010). A book about the nature of gambling, emphasizing the dangers and pitfalls of feeling lucky. It will investigate the hooks of gambling and what makes gamblers feel lucky. Using both mathematics and psychology it will illustrate the misconceptions of luck, explore what it means to have a good chance, and to create an awareness of expected outcomes.
Published by Dutton in April 2007. Now available in bookstores. "THIS is one of the most fascinating science books I have ever read . . . Mazur has succeeded in telling a fresh and untold story with clarity and style." -- The New Scientist
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles of the Year 2005-- “This book is a treasure of human experience and intellectual excitement.”
Editor of the revived classic by Tobias Dantzig, Number: The Language of Science.