The Secret Lives of Numbers

The Secret Lives of Numbers

A new history of mathematics focusing on the marginalized voices who propelled the discipline, spanning six continents and thousands of years of untold stories.

We think we know the story of math: A bearded old Greek guy named Pythagoras dreamed up his theorem. Another bearded old Greek guy named Euclid filled in the rest of the gaps--boom, geometry. After that, nothing too important happened for a couple thousand years (they were the Dark Ages after all). Then, a white English guy named Isaac Newton got clunked on the head by an apple, and voila, we had calculus. A French white guy named Fermat gave us one of the toughest theorems to prove, until an English white guy cracked it a few hundred years later. An American white guy, John Nash, blessed us with game theory. Sensing a theme here?

This is not the whole story--not even close.

The Secret Lives of Numbers makes the case that the history of math is infinitely deeper, broader, and richer than the narrative we think we know. Our story takes us from Hypatia, the first great female mathematician, whose ideas revolutionized geometry and who was killed for them--to Karen Uhlenbeck, the first woman to win the Abel Prize, "math's Nobel." Along the way we travel the globe to meet the brilliant Arabic scholars of the "House of Wisdom," a math temple whose destruction in the Siege of Baghdad in the thirteenth century was a loss arguably on par with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria; Madhava of Sangamagrama, the fourteenth-century Indian genius who uncovered the central tenets of calculus 300 years before Isaac Newton was born; and the Black mathematicians of the Civil Rights era, who played a significant role in dismantling some of the early data-based methods of racial discrimination.

Covering thousands of years, six continents (sorry, Antarctica), and just about every mathematical discipline, The Secret Lives of Numbers is an immensely compelling narrative history, a book that aims to inspire the next generation of mathematicians and scientists and show that math is for everyone.

Publication Date: 
June 13, 2023