Dr R Balashankar
Heavenly Mathematics: The Forgotten Art of Spherical Trigonometry, Glen Van Brummelen, Princeton University Press, Pp 192 (HB), $ 24.95
HEAVENLY Mathematics by Glen Van Brummelen is a lamentation on the teaching techniques of mathematics in schools today. Brummelen advocates the re-introduction of spherical trigonometry into the school curriculum. “I appreciate spherical trigonometry mostly because it’s beautiful. The theorems are elegant and often surprising” says he. Tracing the origin of the subject to 1500 years ago, Brummelen lists its uses in navigation, astronomy and geography. It is entirely another matter that there are texts in India thousands of years earlier which have perfected this branch of maths. Sadly Brummelen begins the narration with al Biruni, a first century Persian scholar totally ignoring India’s contribution to maths and science.
The word “trigonometry” means “triangle measurement” says Brummelen, adding it came from Bartholomew Pitiscus’ 1600 book Trigonometria. He also gives the origin and history of the present day logarithms.
“As far as we know, trigonometry was first used for navigation by Venetian merchant ships in the 14th century” Brummelen says, adding how the sailors picked up this theory remains a mystery. He gives an elaborate on how to measure one’s position at sea.
Full of academic, text-book content, the book is a delight to maths students. So if you are game for a journey into the world of spherical trigonometry, pick up the book. Brummelen gives exercises at the end of the chapters that can be fun if you are a mathematics person.
Glen Van Brummelen is coordinator of mathematics and physical science at Quest University, Canada and has authored several books on maths.
(Princeton University Press, 41, William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540)