NO PAIN, NO GAIN: When The Mathematicians Didn’t Give Up!

Symmetry

Title: Why Beauty is Truth- a History of Symmetry

Author: Ian Stewart

Available: English and Italian

Maths. What a sucks. Maths. I hate it, I don’t understand it, it’s not useful to calculate Pytagora’s theorem at the supermarket. Addiction, subtraction, multiplication and division are enough for our life, aren’t them? No, of course, they aren’t and this book can demonstrate it. Thanks to the biographies of some amazing mathematicians,  it’s clear that historical events and science are strictly tangled.

Initially there was an algebric problem, now there is the “string theory”. What was there in the middle? The discovery of symmetry, that is a specific type of transformation; in others words, a specific method to relocate objects.The first mathematician who created a language  to describe the structure’s symmetry and calculate the consequences was Galois. His discovery is nowadays called “groups theory” and its application deals with physic and computer science.

Why beauty is truth” begins its journey from the ancient past: Babylon and Persia with arabs, greeks and Alexander the Great. We then meet Fibonacci during the Italian Middle Ages and Tartaglia, Cardano and Ferrari during the Renaissance-with all the disagreements between the last two. We’ll be familiar with the brilliant Niels Abel from the north and we’ll suffer cause of his tragic love story (who says that mathematicians are unfeeling?). Gauss, that genius (click here for the Gauss Project) probably will feel you dumb, but his brilliant mind will fascinate you, like that Galois, a foolish rebel. Another great mathematician was Dirac: as good at studies as unfit at the lab. His attitude was called “Dirac effect”. Poor soul!

I’m aware I haven’t said a word about symmetry or mathematical theories explained in the book. Of course I have a good answer, that is Ian Stewart, the author. He is a great mathematician and a famous writer (“Does God play dice?”, “Flatterland” ) and, like your smart best friend explains a difficult exercise to you in a funny way, he opens the door of maths with naturalness. Moreover, Stewart is such an amazing writer: with clear and well-finished style, you don’t feel learning maths at all (and this is my easy way out). Readers will surely appreciate the quotes of Terry Prachett and James Joyce, making the text pleasant.

A weird recurring detail in the book is the computation mistake by the most of mathematicians. There wasn’t any calculators, apps or pc programs at the time and calculations were handmade (sorry, mindmade for those masterminds), but I was puzzled about the situation. How is it possible they couldn’t calculate properly? A friend of mine thinks that  mathematicians live in a huge logic word, with a lot of theory and few computation. She is one of them, obviously.

Vulp

The Gauss Party’s Project – Maths Meets Litterature

Credits: Redooc

Credits: Redooc

Hi everyone, this is a very special post for bookworms (especially italian ones)!

“Gauss Party” will be a collection of short stories about maths and it’s weird paths. However, “Gauss Party” needs you thanks to  crowdfunding!! For this reason, please, like, share and donate!

https://www.produzionidalbasso.com/project/gauss-party/

Vulp

READING DISEASE AND OTHER DISORDERS: a treatment without pills for readers

TITLE: The Novel Cure

AUTHOR: Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin

AVAILABLE: English and Italian

the novel cure

Pills, tablets, syrups, granny remedies and a blanket are our best friends in illness time. Often, on the night table, there are a good cup of tea and the doctor’s number. Just in case.

When you feel sick, obviously, projects, homeworks or houseworks are off limits: your mind couldn’t focus on anything. These uncomfortable days are sometimes lighter thanks to books. Have you ever paid attention to it? There is always a book near a patient.

In these cases you should read “The novel cure”: it’s a very unusual book, in fact it’s structured like a medical dictionary with a great number of diseases in alphabetical order. For all of them you find one or more reviews of books you should read to recover your health. Look for melancholy, cold, broken heart, broken leg or sneeze. Yes, even for constipation! If you need more books to feel well there are short lists of titles that could ease your recovery. Or to spin it out, of course.

I hear you… you are afraid of this new type of treatment. Don’t worry, the authors are the best experts in this field. Ella Berthoud is a painter and an art teacher, Susan Elderkin, instead, is a writer. They founded together a bibliotherapy service some years ago and “The novel cure” is the summary of their researches. All remedies have been tested on humans and there isn’t any type of side effects. The style is simple without being trivial, it’s well-finished, but not polished.

The authors already knew that for bookworms a good book’s power can recover everything (or pretty much), but the experience could be positive even for that strange species of human being which mysteriously dislike reading. However the selection is very hard because of the excellent authors’ expertise: Daisy Ashford, George Perec, Shaun Tan, Philip K. Dick, Wilkie Collins, Amando Jorge, Helen Fielding, Nikolaj’ Gogol, Lucio Apuleio, Philip Pullman…

All things considered, do you really need your sleeping pills when you have hundreds of books waiting for you?

Vulp

FROM ZERO TO HERO: the immortal life of an (un)known woman

TITLE: The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

AUTHOR: Rebecca Skloot

AVAILABLE: English and Italian

How much time did you spent on  biology school book studying the brick of life, the cell? How many times have you heard carelessly  about new discoveries of biology thanks to some immortal cellular lines? How many times have you asked yourself about who donate their cells for the science? If your answers are a lot, sometimes and never, please continue reading this review and then run to the library or a bookshop.

USA,1958: a black woman, Henrietta Lacks, dies because of a uterin cervix cancer. She wasn’t the first and won’t be the last woman who will face to this type of ordeal. During one of her last medical examination, doctors collected a sample of tumoral cells for some laboratory tests. At that time there weren’t any strict laws about the collection of biological samples for medicine, least of all if your skin had got  a great concentration of melanine .Henrietta Lacks and her husband

While Henrietta’s family was celebrating the funeral, in the laboratory there was a sort of rebirth of science and biology. In fact, the tumoral cells of Henrietta had got something special, and they were very different from thousands of other cells already tested: they were immortal. These strange cells live and increase without any problem. The research breathes again thanks to HeLa.

On one hand biomedical discoveries has changed the history of medicine, obtaining prizes and success, but on the other hand the life of Henrietta’s heirs was harsh to make ends meet. Moreover they were at total darkness about the amazing cells of  their relative. The unawareness was one of the problems which  Rebecca Skloot, a scientific journalist, had to deal with. The hunt, for this book, took ten years. She chased Henrietta through the story of her family, official archives and direct evidences.

Skloot writes a complex book (it’s an essay, an article, a novel) with openness and expertise. Although some parts are a bit arduous, it’s a good reading for non experts people. Don’t be scared for the more four hundreds pages because you will be captured in them.

Finally, did Rebecca Skloot find Henrietta Lacks? Enjoy the adventure!

Vulpy

OLD BUT GOLD – The extraordinary story of a poisonous plant used to treat a baffling disease

TITLE: “L’erba della regina” (The Queen’s Grass) AUTHOR: Paolo Mazzarello EDITOR: Bollati Boringheri AVAILABLE: Italian only Once upon a time there was a disease, a medicine man, a plant and a Queen. It’s not the beginning of a fairy tale, but by some strange coincidences it could be. At the end of the first World War, spanish flu was devastating Europe. But there was another strange disease which was spreading silently trough the villages: Encephalitis Lethargica. The symptoms are nowadays considered a medical contradiction, but in that days they were only a mass of clinical signs. The list consisted of: high fever, slow movements, no facial expression, muscolar pains, tremors, abnormal eye movements, behavioural changes. The main characteristic of the disease is a profound  coma-like sleep. The doctor didn’t know how to face the disease. Without a treatment, the neurological and psychiatric departments were rapidly filled. In this period in Bulgaria a medicine man, Ivan Raev, treated succesfully a woman affected by Encephalitis Lethargica with a dangerous plant: Deadly Night-Shade. Without a medical degree, Raev used the only two tools in his hands: observation and his exstensive knowledge of curative plants. The news of woman was heard on the grapevine by an influent personality: Helen Queen of Italy, Victor Emmanuel’s wife. A woman, born in Montenegro, a small state on the other side of Adriatic Sea, passionate about medicine, was the trigger for a new way to approch the patients: she opened many structure where treatment was combined with physiotherapy, psychotherapy and other amenities. For this modern approach, whole of Europe looked the Italian model. Maybe the past has still something to teach us. When you read the book it’s clear that the author loves each word written. In fact he is a doctor and a college professor of Medical history. He travelled to Bulgaria in order to reconstruct the events of that period. In my opinion “The Queen’s Grass” is well worth reading. Unfortunately it has not been traslated into other languages. Nevertheless, firstly I enjoyed the style: simple and well-finished. It’s friendly also to “non- medical-readers”. Secondly, I appreciated the bibliography. It’s useful for a reader interested in the topic and it’s  an indication of scientific accuracy. Nowadays we can breath a sigh of relief because the disease has disappeard. But we can’t exclude it could return disguised in another form. However, I’m sure that if there was a similar dreadful situation, there would be also new types of powerful drugs, well-prepared doctors and passionate women.the queen's grass

BACK TO BASICS – The Evolution of Scientist Species

pumpkins AUTHOR : Charles Darwin

TITLE : On the Origin of Species

AVAILABLE : English

Do you remember in the film “Matrix” that famous and amazing scene in which Neo has to choose between two pills, one red and the other one blue? Yes? Perfect! Because “On the Origin of Species”, when it was published, had the same impact as Neo had when ate the red pills. And he saw a new world outside.

Darwin also in 1830 saw a new world when he travelled on “The Beagle” on an exciting survey expedition. He took many notes during his voyage, and after that he continued his observations at home. This huge work was gathered in many essays, but “Origin of Species” is the best known.

The main and famous topic, introduced by Darwin, was the theory that populations evolve through a process of natural selection based on  their strongest and most useful characteristics to survive in their habitat. We have to remember that, before Darwin, other scientists (such as Lamarck and Linneus) tried to understood better the working of Nature.

Nowadays, thanks to this cornerstone, scientists have impreoved their knowledge of biology. Nevertheless we must not forget that in Darwin’s time the essay and the theory of evolution weren’t easily accepted, either by the Scientific Community or by the Church, inflaming furious debates for years. Fortunately the revolution of biology took place.

“On the Origin of Species” is not a simple book to read. In fact the old style and the multitude of examples make the book seem long-minded and rather verbose by todays standards.

However, in my opinion, once in your life you should read a page of “On the Origin of Species”. Do it with the same respect that you have when you listen to some past episodes by your grandfather because both have contributed to changing the world and have made our history.

                                                                                                                 Vulp