Is mathematics divine

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Review note on Die Zeit, 10/14/1999

Gero von Randow presented eight new books on mathematics in a large collective review. Important criteria for its evaluation are, on the one hand, comprehensibility for readers with little mathematical training and, on the other hand, consideration of social framework conditions that have a direct or indirect influence on mathematical theories.
1) K. C. Cole: "The universe in a teacup" (structure)
Von Randow doesn’t think much of this book. It seems too eclectic to him, offers little new, and he has the impression that neither the author nor the translator are familiar with the subject itself. He also dislikes the chatting style. Brief conclusion of the reviewer: "A dreary event".
2) Clifford A. Pickover: "Mathematics and the Divine" (Spektrum Akademischer Verlag)
Randow liked Pickover's idea of ​​explaining mathematical questions within a narrative framework. However, he is of the opinion that Pickover lacks the necessary talent for prose. In addition, the author makes too little effort to make mathematical discussions understandable even for laypeople. In other areas, however, the book "does not go beyond the limits of small talk."
3) Albrecht Beutelspacher: "Pasta all`Infinito" (C. H. Beck)
This is the "math book of the season", says von Randow. He praises Beutelspacher's ability to bring mathematics closer to the layman through a narrated story. So that the motivation does not decrease while reading, the author also pays attention to small success stories that he convey to the reader. However, even in this book, not every mathematical explanation is always comprehensible for laypeople. As a supplement, von Randow recommends the following book:
4) Wolfgang Blum: "The grammar of logic" (dtv)
For non-mathematicians, "The Grammar of Logic" is a very useful book that acquaints the reader with the most important problems in mathematics.

The other four books discussed are the biographies of famous mathematicians. The first two deal with the life and work of the mathematician Paul Erdös.
5) Paul Hoffmann: "The man who loved numbers" (Ullstein) and
6) Bruce Schlechter: "My mind is open" (Birkhäuser)
In Paul Hoffmann's biography of Erdös, von Randow praised the closeness to life, which is a little lacking in Schlechter's biography. On the other hand, he finds that Schlechter explains the mathematical trains of thought more comprehensibly and better. However, the reviewer has the impression that Worse becomes more impatient as the book progresses, so that some passages are then only understandable for those who are mathematically versed. Both biographies gave a good idea of ​​how mathematicians work. However, von Randow regrets that both books - as in many other mathematics books - do not address the extent to which social circumstances and the content of mathematical theories are mutually dependent.
7) John W. Dawson Jr.: "The logical dilemma". The life and work of Kurt Gödel (Springer)
"Dröge" read the Gödel biography John W. Dawson, grumbles von Randow. In addition, the reviewer finds the mathematical discussions incomprehensible unless the reader is a mathematician himself. However, he praises the fact that Dawson makes considerations about the extent to which mathematical content such as Gödel's "impossibility theorems" are influenced by social, societal and psychological circumstances.
8) Sylvia Nasar: "On the foreign seas of thought" (Piper)
About John Nash's mathematical achievements one learns almost nothing in this biography, says von Randow. But the book is written very professionally and grippingly. Kitchen psychological interpretations (e.g. regarding Nash's years of mental illness) would be avoided. In addition, one can get a good impression of the extent to which external circumstances (Second World War, Cold War, but also the Viennese coffee house culture) influenced the development of mathematical content and theories.