Friday, February 26, 2016

The Beauty of Geometry: String, Straight-Edge, and Shadow

String, Straight-Edge, and Shadow: The Story of Geometry by Julia E. Diggins, illustrated by Corydon Bell

I can't remember where I purchased this book, but I'm linking to RC History because it's presence on the syllabus for Connecting with History Volume 1 is the reason I purchased it and I am entirely grateful. Through the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece, it tells a story of discovery, the discovery of the eternal truths of geometry.

We began this book last year, when First Son was in fifth grade. I would read the selections to him and then he would narrate it back to me. This year, in sixth grade, I asked him to read it independently and then narrate it. Some of the chapters, ones that deal specifically with theorems more than story, are a bit more challenging, but worth the effort.

In the chapter The Golden Age and the Golden Mean, the author writes of the rise of Athens under Pericles.
High on the hill of the Acropolis rose new marble temples and bronze and painted statues. Crowds thronged the vast new open-air theater nearby, to hear immortal tragedies and comedies by the greatest Greek playwrights. These splendid public works were completed under the direction of the sculptor Phidias and several architects, all of whom knew and used the principles of geometry and optics. "Success in art," they insisted, "is achieved by meticulous accuracy in a multitude of mathematical proportions." And their buildings had a dazzling perfection never seen before--the beauty of calculated geometric harmony.
This is not just a book that teaches geometry. This is not just a book that lists off the names of important men and their achievements. This is a book written by someone who appreciates the intrinsic beauty of geometry and skillfully shares that appreciation with the reader.
But working on what may seem useless has frequently been the task of mathematicians, and such tasks, pursued with care, patience, and persistence, have led to most useful results. A whole book could be written about useful results from useless problems.
Kansas Dad taught a class on theology and mathematics a few years ago and agreed whole-heartedly with the above quote. Over and over, he says, investigations into pure mathematics have revealed insights that have clear and immediate real-world applications.

The book reaches its end and its pinnacle in discussing Euclid's Elements.
It was as though Thales and the Pythagoreans had quarried great marble slabs from nature, and through the centuries that followed many minds had carved and polished each piece until at last the whole was put together by Euclid into a simple and perfect structure as lovely as any Greek temple.
Excellently written. Clearly and attractively illustrated. A fantastic addition to our homeschool and a book I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

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