Princeton University Press Launches Princeton Legacy Library

Princeton University Press Launches Princeton Legacy Library

More than 3,000 Out-of-Print Books from Its Celebrated Backlist will become available through Ingram Content Group

Princeton Legacy Library Web site: http://press.princeton.edu/princeton-legacy-library

On Monday, July 14, 2014, Princeton University Press will introduce the Princeton Legacy Library (PLL), its newly digitized out-of-print backlist. The PLL will make Princeton’s backlist titles available digitally through Ingram Content Group in both print-on-demand editions and as ebooks for libraries and scholarly institutions through leading library aggregators.

According to Press Director Peter J. Dougherty, “By digitizing our backlist in the Princeton Legacy Library, the Press has used the latest technology to make our past publications readily available to readers all over the world. Researchers and students in many developing countries will have access to our historical titles for the first time ever.”

On July 14, over 1,200 titles will be released in the Princeton Legacy Library with subsequent batches planned through 2016, moving backward through Princeton University Press’s vaunted publishing history. Books included in the first installment will cover the years from approximately 1980 to 2000. When completed, the program will include over 3,000 titles. Notable titles this year include George Kennan’s Russia Leaves the War. Volume 1 of Soviet-American Relations(1986), John Wheeler’s edited Quantum Theory and Measurement (1983), Gladys Reichard’s Navaho Religion (1963), Sandra Zimdars-Swartz’s Encountering Mary: From La Salette to Medjugorje (1991), and John Polkinghorne’s The Faith of a Physicist: Reflections on a Bottom-Up Thinker (1994).

“It’s gratifying to know that our work and innovation at Ingram Content Group is making a program such as the Princeton Legacy Library possible,” said John Ingram, Ingram Content Group’s Chairman and CEO, and ’83 graduate of Princeton University. “Reviving out-of-print works so they continue to be resources for learning is one of the many ways we are using new technology to improve accessibility and availability of reading material on a global scale. On many levels, I’m pleased that Ingram is partnering with Princeton University Press to support their pursuit to provide scholarly content to learners around the world.”

“This project has been made possible in large part by advances in digital technology,” according to Assistant Director and Director of Marketing Adam Fortgang, who noted, “Over the past few years, the Press has seen a significant increase in demand for our out-of-print books and, with the advent of improved scanning technology, we felt we could fulfill our scholarly mission by making high-quality digital editions of these books available once again.”

Produced using the latest print-on-demand technology, these paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books and present them in durable and affordable volumes for new generations of readers.

Working closely with Ingram, the Press developed a system to automate the creation of paperback covers to give the Princeton Legacy Library a standard look and format. The cover designs were created by Tom Geismar of the distinguished graphic design firm, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv. All books in the Library will be available digitally for libraries and institutions. Initially, the ebook versions will not be available via retailers until sufficient demand warrants additional conversions.

In keeping with the fundamental mission of Princeton University Press, the Princeton Legacy Library continues the Press’s commitment, “to disseminating the highest quality scholarship (through print and digital media) both within academia and to society at large. Princeton University Press seeks to publish the innovative works of the greatest minds in academia, from the most respected senior scholar to the extraordinarily promising graduate student, in each of the disciplines in which we publish.”

 

###

 

Princeton University Press’s Weekly Best-Seller List

These are the best-selling books for the past week.

1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline – 6th Week in a row!!
Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better by Peter H. Schuck
The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century by Jürgen Osterhammel
Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World by Gillen D’Arcy Wood
The Soul of the World by Roger Scruton
Everyday Calculus: Discovering the Hidden Math All around Us by Oscar E. Fernandez
Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson
The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle
The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter by Katherine Freese
On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt

The Marginalia Review of Books announces the “Lives of Great Religious Books Essay Competition”

From The Marginalia Review of Books web site:

Essay-Competition

The Marginalia Review of Books announces the “Lives of Great Religious Books Essay Competition.” We invite essay submissions of up to 3,000 words related to the theme of the reception of religious books, broadly conceived. Those interested should read past essays to ensure their submissions correspond to MRB‘s style. The eminent philosopher Roger Scruton will join the MRB editors to judge the competition. The winner will receive Princeton University Press’s entire Lives of Great Religious Books series, and we will consider all submissions for publication in early 2015.

The competition closes on November 1 and the winner will be announced in January 2015.

For details on how to submit an essay for consideration, please visit The Marginalia Review of Books web site.

About the Lives of Great Religious Books series:

Lives of Great Religious Books is a new series of short volumes that recount the complex and fascinating histories of important religious texts from around the world. Written for general readers by leading authors and experts, these books examine the historical origins of texts from the great religious traditions, and trace how their reception, interpretation, and influence have changed–often radically–over time. As these stories of translation, adaptation, appropriation, and inspiration dramatically remind us, all great religious books are living things whose careers in the world can take the most unexpected turns.

Carlin Romano called the series “innovative,” in his earlier article for The Chronicle of Higher Education and Bruce Elder, writing for The Sydney Morning Herald praised the series as an “inspired publishing idea.”

For a list of the books currently available in the series, please click here.

To see the list of forthcoming volumes, please click here.

 

Save the Date — David Reimer, “Count Like an Egyptian” at the Princeton Public Library on May 29

052914Reimer

Join the fun on May 29 at 7:00 PM as the Princeton Public Library and Princeton University Press welcome David Reimer, professor of mathematics and statistics at The College of New Jersey, for an exploration of the world of ancient Egyptian math and the lessons it holds for mathematicians of all levels today.

Prof. Reimer will present a fun introduction to the intuitive and often-surprising art of ancient Egyptian math. Learn how to solve math problems with ancient Egyptian methods of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and discover key differences between Egyptian math and modern day calculations (for example, in spite of their rather robust and effective mathematics, Egyptians did not possess the concept of fractions).

Following the lecture, Prof. Reimer will sign copies of his new book, Count Like an Egyptian. Copies of will be available for purchase at the lecture or you can pick up a copy ahead of time at Labyrinth Books.

Looking forward to spring warblers? Join The Warbler Guide at these events in Philadelphia

We’re looking forward to spring with three fantastic warbler events this weekend at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, co-authors of The Warbler Guide, will be on-hand to give workshops on warbler ID and guide a few walks.

Capture

 

Click here to download a PDF flyer for these events.

2014 Lawrence Stone Lecture Series to Feature Lorraine Daston

This year’s Lawrence Stone Lecture Series, featuring Lorraine Daston, will be held April 29 thru May 1. Entitled “Rules: A Short History of What We Live By,” the lecture will feature three different sessions:

April 29 — Rules of Iron, Rules of Lead: A Prehistory of an Indispensable and Impossible Genre

April 30 — Rules Go Rigid: Natural Laws, Calculations, and Algorithms

May 1 — Rules, Rationality, and Reasonableness

The events will be held in 010 East Pyne Building at 4:30 p.m.

The lecture series is co-sponsored by Princeton University Press, Princeton University’s History Department, and the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies. The Center was founded by former chair of the History Department, Lawrence Stone (1919-91). Each year, the lecture series features Princeton’s Lawrence Stone Visiting Professor, and the professor’s three lectures are then included in a book published by Princeton University Press.

Lorraine Daston is the executive director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin as well as a visiting professor on the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.

april 15 lecture

Show Me the Money: PUP Authors on the Role of Wealth in Politics

How much can your buck get you in politics today? A forthcoming paper by PUP author Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page puts a finer point on the idea that money can enhance your influence on political policy. In fact, the authors give us an actual number for gauging that influence. Fifteen times — that is how much more important the collective preferences of “economic elites” are than those of other citizens, Gilens and Page found. Yes, you read that correctly.

Gilens and Page’s paper, which will run in Perspectives on Politics, explains how they came to this conclusion, studying “1,779 instances between 1981 and 2002 in which a national survey of the general public asked a favor/oppose question about a proposed policy change.” They write:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

In a recent article on the Washington Post‘s Monkey Cage blog, PUP author and co-director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institution, Larry Bartels, examines Gilens and Page’s findings and other research that contributes to what we know about the effects of money on political influence. Check out the article for Bartels’ take on this issue.

In this midterm election year, following the McCutcheon v. FEC ruling, money is on everyone’s minds. Looking to brush up on the theories and research behind these issues? You can read more from Bartels and Gilens — we invite you to read the sample chapters and other supplementary materials from their award-winning Princeton University Press books. We have also included a peek at political scientists Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba and Henry E. Brady’s systematic examination of political voice in America.

 

 bookjacketRead Chapter One here. Using a vast swath of data spanning the past six decades, Unequal Democracy debunks many myths about politics in contemporary America, using the widening gap between the rich and the poor to shed disturbing light on the workings of American democracy. Larry Bartels shows the gap between the rich and poor has increased greatly under Republican administrations and decreased slightly under Democrats, leaving America grossly unequal. This is not simply the result of economic forces, but the product of broad-reaching policy choices in a political system dominated by partisan ideologies and the interests of the wealthy. In this interview, Bartels answers tough questions about the effect of money in America.

 

bookjacket “We are the 99%” has quickly become the slogan of our political era as growing numbers of Americans express concern about the disappearing middle class and the ever-widening gap between the super-rich and everyone else. Has America really entered a New Gilded Age? What are the political consequences of the growing income gap? Can democracy survive such vast economic inequality? These questions dominate our political moment–and Larry Bartels provides answers backed by sobering data.Princeton Shorts are brief selections taken from influential Princeton University Press books and produced exclusively in ebook format. Providing unmatched insight into important contemporary issues or timeless passages from classic works of the past, Princeton Shorts enable you to be an instant expert in a world where information is everywhere but quality is at a premium.

 

 bookjacketPreview the introduction here. Can a country be a democracy if its government only responds to the preferences of the rich? Affluence and Influence definitively explores how political inequality in the United States has evolved over the last several decades and how this growing disparity has been shaped by interest groups, parties, and elections.With sharp analysis and an impressive range of data, Martin Gilens looks at thousands of proposed policy changes, and the degree of support for each among poor, middle-class, and affluent Americans. His findings are staggering: when preferences of low- or middle-income Americans diverge from those of the affluent, there is virtually no relationship between policy outcomes and the desires of less advantaged groups. In contrast, affluent Americans’ preferences exhibit a substantial relationship with policy outcomes whether their preferences are shared by lower-income groups or not. Yet Gilens also shows that under specific circumstances the preferences of the middle class and, to a lesser extent, the poor, do seem to matter. In particular, impending elections–especially presidential elections–and an even partisan division in Congress mitigate representational inequality and boost responsiveness to the preferences of the broader public.

 

bookjacketRead Chapter One here. Politically active individuals and organizations make huge investments of time, energy, and money to influence everything from election outcomes to congressional subcommittee hearings to local school politics, while other groups and individual citizens seem woefully underrepresented in our political system.Drawing on numerous in-depth surveys of members of the public as well as the largest database of interest organizations ever created–representing more than thirty-five thousand organizations over a twenty-five-year period — The Unheavenly Chorus conclusively demonstrates that American democracy is marred by deeply ingrained and persistent class-based political inequality. The well educated and affluent are active in many ways to make their voices heard, while the less advantaged are not. This book reveals how the political voices of organized interests are even less representative than those of individuals, how political advantage is handed down across generations, how recruitment to political activity perpetuates and exaggerates existing biases, how political voice on the Internet replicates these inequalities–and more.

 

A miracle in Arcata, CA – report from the our stalwart sales rep Steve Ballinger

k10185We knew 1177 B.C. by Eric Cline would be a big book for us, but it has become a run-away seller (even appearing on the Canadian best-seller list the week of its release)  since its release in late March and we have just ordered a third printing! Not only is it topping the archaeology charts on Amazon, but it’s also seeing some great sell through in independent bookstores. Case in point, check out this terrific story from our West coast sales representative, Steve Ballinger.

Greetings – I’m back after a long haul through California. The rain was Weather Channel worthy at times. The orders were great. Somehow I didn’t get one good meal out of the trip. Carl’s Jr and Jack in Box were the top spots for cuisine last week. The route of the sales calls took me over the mountain ranges and forests, past the vast orchards of angry farmers, up and down the dreaded Grapevine. Yet, a miracle happened.

Friday, after visiting the bookstores in Ukiah, I drove on up to Northtown Books in Arcata. Northtown Bookstore could easily fit in the hipster haven of Brooklyn. The parking is better though. It was one of those situations of selling the list at the front counter and pausing while Dante, the store owner, handled customers. We got the first two books in the order, The Extreme Life of the Sea and The Transformation of the World. But then he passed on the ancient history titles even after much whimpering and trying on my part. I could just visualize the 1177 B.C. title in the store.

Well, a few customers came and went, a twenty-something mom with tousled hair asked about #7 and #8 of the Unicorn series and he said he could get it in for her. We got to Lost Animals and then the phone rang. I could hear him say, “As it turns out I am having a meeting with the publisher’s representative right now.” He came back shaking his head in amazement, the customer on the phone, had called to see if he could order 1177 B.C. Princeton’s new book. We went from zero to 2. A miracle. It was some guy named Darius.

A miracle in Arcata, CA.

Bob Geddes to Give Talk, Tour, and Book Signing at the Institute for Advanced Study

Calling all Princeton-area architecture fans: Bob Geddes will be giving a lecture, tour, and book signing of Fit: An Architect’s Manifesto, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, on Saturday, April 5th, from 10:00 AM to 1:30 PM (EDT), sponsored by DOCOMOMO Philadelphia and DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State.

Tickets and full event details are available via Eventbrite ($20 for DOCOMOMO members / $25 for non-members / FREE for IAS faculty, scholars, and staff).

Photo: Amy Ramsey, Courtesy of Institute for Advanced StudyMake it New, Make it Fit

The architecture of Geddes, Brecher, Qualls, and Cunningham (GBQC) has been largely overlooked in recent years—despite a remarkable and influential body of work beginning with their runner-up submission for the Sydney Opera House (1956). As significant contributors (along with Louis Kahn) to the “Philadelphia School,” GBQC’s efforts challenged modernist conceptions of space, functional relationships, technology, and—with an urbanist’s eye—the reality of change over time.

To explore the thinking behind the work, founding partner Robert Geddes, FAIA, will speak about his recent publication, Fit: An Architect’s Manifesto. In addition, Geddes will guide a tour through the venue for his talk, the Institute of Advanced Study’s Simmons Hall—a GBQC masterwork of 1971. Geddes will also participate in an informal discussion with participants during lunch at the IAS Cafeteria.

Schedule
10:00-10:30am      Dilworth Room. Event check in. Coffee served.
10:30-11:15am        Make it New, Make it Fit Lecture by Bob Geddes
11:15-11:50am        Building Tour
11:50-12:10pm       Lunch at cafeteria where discussion continues
12:10-1:00pm         Lunch and discussion
1:00-1:30pm           Wrap up and book signing.

Parking
LOT ‘B’ enter through West Building. When you arrive at the site, please bring a copy of your tickets, either printed or displayed on your mobile phone.

About the speaker
Robert Geddes is dean emeritus of the Princeton School of Architecture and founding partner of GBQC—recipient of the AIA’s Firm of the Year Award in 1979. Educated under Walter Gropius at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Geddes returned to his native Philadelphia in 1950 where he began his work as an educator at the University of Pennsylvania.

Pi Day: Where did π come from anyway?

This article is extracted from Joseph Mazur’s fascinating history of mathematical notation, Enlightening Symbols. For more Pi Day features from Princeton University Press, please click here.

 


 

k10204[1]When one sees π in an equation, the savvy reader automatically knows that something circular is lurking behind. So the symbol (a relatively modern one, of course) does not fool the mathematician who is familiar with its many disguises that unintentionally drag along in the mind to play into imagination long after the symbol was read.

Here is another disguise of π: Consider a river flowing in uniformly erodible sand under the influence of a gentle slope. Theory predicts that over time the river’s actual length divided by the straight-line distance between its beginning and end will tend toward π. If you guessed that the circle might be a cause, you would be right.

The physicist Eugene Wigner gives an apt story in his celebrated essay, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.” A statistician tries to explain the meaning of the symbols in a reprint about population trends that used the Gaussian distribution. “And what is this symbol here?” the friend asked.

“Oh,” said the statistician. “This is pi.”

“What is that?”

“The ratio of the circumference of the circle to its diameter.”

“Well, now, surely the population has nothing to do with the circumference of the circle.”

Wigner’s point in telling this story is to show us that mathematical concepts turn up in surprisingly unexpected circumstances such as river lengths and population trends. Of course, he was more concerned with understanding the reasons for the unexpected connections between mathematics and the physical world, but his story also points to the question of why such concepts turn up in unexpected ways within pure mathematics itself.

 

The Good Symbol

The first appearance of the symbol π came in 1706. William Jones (how many of us have ever heard of him?) used the Greek letter π to denote the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle. How simple. “No lengthy introduction prepares the reader for the bringing upon the stage of mathematical history this distinguished visitor from the field of Greek letters. It simply came, unheralded.” But for the next thirty years, it was not used again until Euler used it in his correspondence with Stirling.

We could accuse π of not being a real symbol. It is, after all, just the first letter of the word “periphery.” True, but like i, it evokes notions that might not surface with symbols carrying too much baggage. Certain questions such as “what is ii?” might pass our thoughts without a contemplating pause. Pure mathematics asks such questions because it is not just engaged with symbolic definitions and rules, but with how far the boundaries can be pushed by asking questions that everyday words could ignore. You might think that ii makes no sense, that it’s nothing at all, or maybe a complex number. Surprise: it turns out to be a real number!

It seems that number has a far broader meaning than it once had when we first started counting sheep in the meadow. We have extended the idea to include collections of conceptual things that include the usual members of the number family that still obey the rules of numerical operations. Like many of the words we use, number has a far broader meaning than it once had.

Ernst Mach mused:

Think only of the so-called imaginary quantities with which mathematicians long operated, and from which they even obtained important results ere they were in a position to assign to them a perfectly determinate and withal visualizable meaning.

It is not the job of mathematics to stick with earthly relevance. Yet the world seems to eventually pick up on mathematics abstractions and generalizations and apply them to something relevant to Earth’s existence. Almost a whole century passed with mathematicians using imaginary exponents while a new concept germinated. And then, from the symbol i that once stood for that one-time peculiar abhorrence √−1, there emerged a new notion: that magnitude, direction, rotation may be embodied in the symbol itself. It is as if symbols have some intelligence of their own.

What is good mathematical notation? As it is with most excellent questions, the answer is not so simple. Whatever a symbol is, it must function as a revealer of patterns, a pointer to generalizations. It must have an intelligence of its own, or at least it must support our own intelligence and help us think for ourselves. It must be an indicator of things to come, a signaler of fresh thoughts, a clarifier of puzzling concepts, a help to overcome the mental fatigues of confusion that would otherwise come from rhetoric or shorthand. It must be a guide to our own intelligence. Here is Mach again:

In algebra we perform, as far as possible, all numerical operations which are identical in form once for all, so that only a remnant of work is left for the individual case. The use of the signs of algebra and analysis, which are merely symbols of operations to be performed, is due to the observation that we can materially disburden the mind in this way and spare its powers for more important and more difficult duties, by imposing all mechanical operations upon the hand.

The student of mathematics often finds it hard to throw off the uncomfortable feeling that his science, in the person of his pencil, surpasses him in intelligence—an impression which the great Euler confessed he often could not get rid of.

A single symbol can tell a whole story.

There was no single moment when xn was first used to indicate the nth power of x. A half century separated Bombelli’s , from Descartes’s xn. It may seem like a clear-cut idea to us, but the idea of symbolically labeling the number of copies of x in the product was a huge step forward. The reader no longer had to count the number of x’s, which paused contemplation, interrupted the smoothness of reading, and hindered any broad insights of associations and similarities that could extend ideas. The laws xnxm = xn+m and (xn)m = xnm, where n and m are integers, were almost immediately suggested from the indexing symbol. Not far behind was the idea to let x½ denote √x, inspired by extending the law xnxm = xn+m to include fractions, so x½ x½  = x1.

Further speculation on what nx might be would surely have inspired questions such as what x might be for a given y in an equation such as y = 10x. Answer that and we would have a way of performing multiplication by addition. But Napier, the inventor of logarithms, already knew the answer long before mathematics had any symbols at all!

Symbols acquire meanings that they originally didn’t have. But symbolic representation has, likewise, the disadvantage that the object represented is very easily lost sight of, and that operations are continued with the symbols to which frequently no object whatever corresponds.

Ernst Mach once again:

A symbolical representation of a method of calculation has the same significance for a mathematician as a model or a visualisable working hypothesis has for a physicist. The symbol, the model, the hypothesis runs parallel with the thing to be represented. But the parallelism may extend farther, or be extended farther, than was originally intended on the adoption of the symbol. Since the thing represented and the device representing are after all different, what would be concealed in the one is apparent in the other.

Pi Day Recipe: Brandy Alexander Pie from Cooking for Crowds

This recipe is presented as part of our Pi Day celebration. For more Pi Day features from Princeton University Press, please click here.


Brandy Alexander Pie

This pie is as sweet and delicious as the drink for which it is named, and a great deal less alcoholic. It is light and fluffy, but very filling.

6 12 20 50
unflavored gelatin envelopes 1 2 4 8
cold water ½ c 1 c 2 c 4 c
granulated sugar ⅔ c 1⅓ c 2⅔ c 2 lbs
salt ⅛ tsp ¼ tsp ½ tsp 1 tsp
eggs, separated 3 6 12 24
Cognac ¼ c ½ c 1 c 2 c
Grand Marnieror ¼ c ½ c 1 c 2 c
creme de cacao ¼ c ½ c 1 c 2 c
heavy cream 2 c 4 c 4 pts 8 pts
graham cracker crust 1 2 4 8
Garnish
4-ounce bars semisweet chocolate 1 2 3
heavy cream 1 c 2 c 3½ c 6 c

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a saucepan. Add ⅓ cup [⅔ cup, 1⅓ cups, 2⅔ cups] of the sugar, the salt, and egg yolks. Stir to blend, then heat over low heat, stirring, until the gelatin dissolves and the mixture thickens. Do not boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the Cognac and Grand Marnier (or creme de cacao). Chill in the refrigerator until the mixture mounds slightly and is thick.

Beat the egg whites until stiff (use a portable electric mixer in a large kettle). Gradually beat in the remaining sugar and fold into the thickened mixture. Whip half of the cream until it holds peaks. Fold in the whipped cream, and turn into the crusts. Chill several hours, or overnight. To serve, garnish with the remaining cream, whipped. Using a vegetable peeler, make chocolate curls from the chocolate bars and let drop onto the cream.


cookingFor additional recipes for feeding the masses, please check out Cooking for Crowds by Merry “Corky” White.

#PiDay Art from Beautiful Geometry – “Squaring the Circle”

This article has been extracted from Beautiful Geometry by Eli Maor and Eugen Jost. For more Pi Day features from Princeton University Press, please click here.


At first glance, the circle may seem to be the simplest of all geometric shapes and the easiest to draw: take a string, hold down one end on a sheet of paper, tie a pencil to the other end, and swing it around—a simplified version of the compass. But first impressions can be misleading: the circle has proved to be one of the most intriguing shapes in all of geometry, if not the most intriguing of them all.

How do you find the area of a circle, when its radius is given? You instantly think of the formula A = πr2. But what exactly is that mysterious symbol π? We learn in school that it is approximately 3.14, but its exact value calls for an endless string of digits that never repeat in the same order. So it is impossible to find the exact area of a circle numerically. But perhaps we can do the next best thing—construct, using only straightedge and compass, a square equal in area to that of a circle?

This problem became known as squaring the circle— or simply the quadrature problem—and its solution eluded mathematicians for well over two thousand years. The ancient Egyptians came pretty close: In the Rhind Papyrus, a collection of 84 mathematical problems dating back to around 1800 BCE, there is a statement that the area of a circle is equal to the area of a square of side  of the circle’s diameter. Taking the diameter to be 1 and equating the circle’s area to that of the square, we get π(½)2 = ( )2, from which we derive a value of π equal to ≈ 3.16049—within 0.6 percent of the true value. However, as remarkable as this achievement is, it was based on “eyeballing,” not on an exact geometric construction.

Numerous attempts have been made over the centuries to solve the quadrature problem. Many careers were spent on this task—all in vain. The definitive solution—a negative one—came only in 1882, when Carl Louis Ferdinand von Lindemann (1852– 1939) proved that the task cannot be done—it is impossible to square a circle with Euclidean tools. Actually, Lindemann proved something different: that the number π, the constant at the heart of the quadrature problem, is transcendental. A transcendental number is a number that is not the solution of a polynomial equation with integer coefficients. A number that is not transcendental is called algebraic. All rational numbers are algebraic; for example,  is the solution of the equation 5x − 3 = 0. So are all square roots, cubic roots, and so on; for example,  is the positive solution of x2 − 2 = 0, and  is one solution of x6 − 4x3 − 1 = 0. The name transcendental has nothing mysterious about it; it simply implies that such numbers transcend the realm of algebraic (polynomial) equations.

Now it had already been known that if π turned out to be transcendental, this would at once establish that the quadrature problem cannot be solved. Lindemann’s proof of the transcendence of π therefore settled the issue once and for all. But settling the issue is not the same as putting it to rest; being the most famous of the three classical problems, we can rest assured that the “circle squarers” will pursue their pipe dream with unabated zeal, ensuring that the subject will be kept alive forever.

 pi maor

Metamorphosis of a Circle

Metamorphosis of a Circle, shows four large panels. The panel on the upper left contains nine smaller frames, each with a square (in blue) and a circular disk (in red) centered on it. As the squares decrease in size, the circles expand, yet the sum of their areas remains constant. In the central frame, the square and circle have the same area, thus offering a computer-generated “solution” to the quadrature problem. In the panel on the lower right, the squares and circles reverse their roles, but the sum of their areas is still constant. The entire sequence is thus a metamorphosis from square to circle and back.

Of course, Euclid would not have approved of such a solution to the quadrature problem, because it does not employ the Euclidean tools—a straightedge and compass. It does, instead, employ a tool of far greater power—the computer. But this power comes at a price: the circles, being generated pixel by pixel like a pointillist painting, are in reality not true circles, only simulations of circles.1 As the old saying goes, “there’s no free lunch”—not even in geometry.


Note:

1. The very first of the 23 definitions that open Euclid’s Elements defines a point as “that which has no part.” And since all objects of classical geometry—lines, circles, and so on—are made of points, they rest on the subtle assumption that Euclidean space is continuous. This, of course, is not the case with computer space, where Euclid’s dimensionless point is replaced by a pixel—small, yet of finite size—and space between adjacent pixels is empty, containing no points.