The Mathematical Mechanic: Using Physical Reasoning to Solve Problems

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9780691140209: The Mathematical Mechanic: Using Physical Reasoning to Solve Problems


Everybody knows that mathematics is indispensable to physics--imagine where we'd be today if Einstein and Newton didn't have the math to back up their ideas. But how many people realize that physics can be used to produce many astonishing and strikingly elegant solutions in mathematics? Mark Levi shows how in this delightful book, treating readers to a host of entertaining problems and mind-bending puzzlers that will amuse and inspire their inner physicist.


Levi turns math and physics upside down, revealing how physics can simplify proofs and lead to quicker solutions and new theorems, and how physical solutions can illustrate why results are true in ways lengthy mathematical calculations never can. Did you know it's possible to derive the Pythagorean theorem by spinning a fish tank filled with water? Or that soap film holds the key to determining the cheapest container for a given volume? Or that the line of best fit for a data set can be found using a mechanical contraption made from a rod and springs? Levi demonstrates how to use physical intuition to solve these and other fascinating math problems. More than half the problems can be tackled by anyone with precalculus and basic geometry, while the more challenging problems require some calculus. This one-of-a-kind book explains physics and math concepts where needed, and includes an informative appendix of physical principles.


The Mathematical Mechanic will appeal to anyone interested in the little-known connections between mathematics and physics and how both endeavors relate to the world around us.


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From the Inside Flap:

"What a fun book! Mark Levi's physical arguments are so clever and surprising that they made me laugh with pleasure, again and again. The Mathematical Mechanic is downright magical--a real treat for anyone who loves intuition."--Steven Strogatz, author of Sync: How Order Emerges from Chaos in the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life

"This is an absolutely delightful book, full of surprises--even for mathematicians like myself--and beautifully written. It can be enjoyed by anyone, from someone just learning calculus to professional mathematicians and physicists."--Louis Nirenberg, recipient of the National Medal of Science

"This is an extraordinary book that only Mark Levi could have written. No one interested in mathematics or physics can fail to be amazed and delighted. It is witty and charming as well as deep, and accessible with very little background required--a tour de force!"--Nancy Kopell, Boston University, MacArthur Fellow

"The most imaginative and charming book on mechanics and geometry in the last fifty years--for lighting up tea times, for thrilling classrooms, as a present for a special friend, as company on a desert island."--Tadashi Tokieda, University of Cambridge

"This book shows how many mathematical theorems can be proved by looking at them in mechanical or geometrical terms. I found it to be very interesting and fun to read. I recommend it most enthusiastically."--Joseph Keller, recipient of the National Medal of Science

"The Mathematical Mechanic jazzes up the old married couple, math and physics. The book breathes fresh air into the (sometimes stale) relationship and invites us to rethink familiar topics in unfamiliar ways. It disorients us in the most delightful manner. Mark Levi's razor-edge writing and gentle humor permeate every page. I will turn to this book again and again for inspiration on teaching math to high school students."--Gregory Somers, State College Area High School, recipient of the Edyth May Sliffe Award for Distinguished Mathematics Teaching

"This book is a fresh, insightful, and highly original presentation of mathematical physics that will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. I have not seen anything like it before. It is a book that a physicist or engineer would be proud to have written, and the fact that it has been written by a mathematician only adds to the book's authority. A definite winner."--Paul J. Nahin, author of Digital Dice

"I know of no other book quite like this, or even similar to it. After a couple of sentences of the introduction, I was hooked. The general theme--to show how physical reasoning can illuminate mathematical ideas and simplify proofs--is very attractive. This book will appeal to math enthusiasts at all levels, from high-school students on up."--Philip Holmes, coauthor of Celestial Encounters

About the Author:

Mark Levi is professor of mathematics at Pennsylvania State University and the author of "Why Cats Land on Their Feet" (Princeton).

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