Pythagoras, History , Music, and Reality

May 6, 2015 at 4:39 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

51emwyTkxmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Title: Pythagorean Theorem: the Story of Its Power and Beauty

Author: Alfred S. Posamentier

Genre: Mathematic History

Publisher: Prometheus Books

Length: 320 pages

I’m not sure why I picked it up.  I didn’t even particularly care for math in school.  Geometry was not my strongest suit – but it was fairly easy math that I slithered through with the least possible amount of effort of any of my math courses.  But I was at the library one day and this geometric tree design was staring at me – I’d been collecting everything I could on trees because I am determined to become a certified arborist by the time I turn 40 – and upon impulse I through it in my “shopping” bag.

It might have been because I saw that it was about the Pythagorean theorem, and just a few years ago I attended a MENSA meeting where Andy Tang spoke on the topic.  The lecture was riveting, the discussion entertaining, and the wine pretty great for free stuff.  The event coordinator in me wanted to host his art exhibit at one of the bookstores I work with.  This didn’t happen, but there was such an exhibit led by him in Austin:

The community art exhibition “Pythagoras (and Austinites) Discovering the Musical Intervals” invites you to discover the story of what Pythagoras heard at the blacksmiths’ workshop. Continuing the tradition of passing down this ancient tale, this art show showcases Austin-area artwork through interactive, musical, and visual interpretations. (

Whatever it was that possessed me, I picked up the book.  I read the book.  I enjoyed the book – a lot.  More than I could have thought I would enjoy a math book.

Although, let’s be honest, I enjoyed it for the philosophy and history, not so much for the endless diagrams and presentations on how the theorem works.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I took that math class, I get it, and it’s cool, but I was really into the book for the tidbits about Fibonacci and then later, Bosman.  Bosman, by the way, is the guy that came up with the Pythagorean tree featured on the front cover.

I read this book for the whole chapter on music – that ties into that Andy Tang lecture I loved so much.  I read this book because I was a “Choir Queer” in high school and loved chamber music and found it completely fascinating how much math and music were so intertwined.  And of course, any one who does math and attempts music theory ends up asking the same questions:

“[…] do we simiply measure the distances between pitches or do we seek some measurable property of the pitches themselves that allows us to determine their relationships to other pitches […]”

Pythagoras had an answer.  And he’s an old, dead dude, and I love reading ancient history and things on or by old, dead dudes.  Except, naturally, Pythagoras was a top secret kind of guy and left no writings of his own behind and everything we know about him is second hand at best.)

Which leaves me diving into Philolaus, Plato, and Aristotle, and itching to get into Xenophon and see if anything is mentioned there because Herodotus didn’t spend nearly enough time on him.

I read this book thinking about Alyssa Martin’s Pythagoras cake bust.  She owns The Martin Epicurean – and cake that looks like a face – how cool is that?

I read this book because I will pretty much read anything, but especially because I love science more than my student transcripts could possibly portray – mostly because I avoided science courses like the plague.  I like the philosophies of science and concepts… I don’t care for the formulas and the math, but I’ll learn them ok if there isn’t any testing. Oh God, my test taking anxiety is insane… but reading up on it all, I love that.  After all, it suits my passions:

“Science is the discipline that attempts to describe the reality of the world around us, including the nature of living organisms, by rational means.” – Dr. Herbert A. Hauptman, Nobel Laureate

This one is a keeper.  I checked it out from the library, but I plan to purchase it when it comes time for kiddo to read it.  It’s an educational must-have.


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