Academic journal article Mathematics and Computer Education

Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life

Academic journal article Mathematics and Computer Education

Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life

Article excerpt

LEWIS CARROLL IN NUMBERLAND: HIS FANTASTICAL MATHEMATICAL LOGICAL LIFE by Robin Wilson W. W. Norton, 2008, 237 pp., ISBN: 978-0-393-06027-0

Lewis Carroll in Numberland is a delightful biography of Charles Dodgson who, under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll, was the autiior of Alice in Wonderland. Containing pertinent and fascinating details about Dodgson's life, this book is noteworthy for its focus on his professional and recreational mathematical work. Robin Wilson is a noted historian of mathematics who writes in a lively, highly readable style that exudes his enthusiasm for Dodgson and Dodgson's mathematics. Wilson has produced a book that will delight Lewis Carroll fans and lovers of mathematical puzzles and paradoxes.

Lewis Carroll in Numberland begins with a series of mathematical "scenes" from Carroll's children's books. Wilson includes some of our favorite passages from Carroll's work. From Alice in Wonderland, we read the Mock Turtle's rendition of the branches of arithmetic: Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision. From the lesser known Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, we follow the directions for constructing a purse from möbius strips. And from the Hunting of the Snark, we marvel at the Butcher's convoluted explanation of why 2 + 1 = 3. This introduction sets the stage for more detailed discussions of the mathematics that fascinated Dodgson and the fun that he had, as Carroll, with the mathematics.

Next up are several chapters (called "Fits" in homage to The Hunting of the Snark) on Dodgson's early life and education, and his path to a career as a mathematics professor. The biographical details are peppered with the mathematics that Dodgson explored and pondered. As the book progresses, the mathematics of Dodgson/Carroll overshadows the biography of Dodgson.

Fit the Fourth focuses on Dodgson's work in geometry and his 1879 defense of Euclid in Euclid and his Modern Rivals. Fit the Fifth discusses Dodgson's Elementary Treatise on Determinants. …

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