The Mathematics of Life


By Ian Stewart

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Biologists have long dismissed mathematics as being unable to meaningfully contribute to our understanding of living beings. Within the past ten years, however, mathematicians have proven that they hold the key to unlocking the mysteries of our world — and ourselves.

In The Mathematics of Life, Ian Stewart provides a fascinating overview of the vital but little-recognized role mathematics has played in pulling back the curtain on the hidden complexities of the natural world — and how its contribution will be even more vital in the years ahead. In his characteristically clear and entertaining fashion, Stewart explains how mathematicians and biologists have come to work together on some of the most difficult scientific problems that the human race has ever tackled, including the nature and origin of life itself.
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  • "An ingenious overview of biology with emphasis on mathematical ideas--stimulating."
  • "Stewart flexes his mathematical muscles when he explores concepts like symmetrical viruses and puzzle-solving slime moulds. As always, he explains complicated mathematical ideas brilliantly."
    New Scientist
  • "A timely account of why biologists and mathematicians are hooking up at last.... Stewart is Britain's most brilliant and prolific populariser of mathematics.... Mathematics of Life is dense with information, written with Stewart's characteristic lightness of touch and will please the dedicated maths reader.... [T]he book is a testament to the versatility of maths and how it is shaping our understanding of the world."
    The Guardian
  • "It is difficult to find many biologists who enjoy math, or vice versa, but British number cruncher Ian Stewart successfully crosses over. Here he argues that solving some of the biggest scientific mysteries, including life's origins and prevalence in the universe, hinges on a union of these fields. He skillfully recasts the history of biology within a mathematical context...then applies his left-brained perspective to the hot new field of astrobiology. Bio majors: Try the book, then bite the bullet and enroll in Math 101."
  • "Though a complete understanding of how mathematics pries secrets out of nature requires long and rigorous study, Stewart conveys to general readers the fundamental axioms with lucidly accessible writing, supplemented with helpful charts and illustrations.... A rewarding adventure for the armchair scientist."
  • "The Mathematics of Life is at its best in discussing the role that the discipline has played in our understanding of viruses.... Mr. Stewart's discussion of the intersection of viruses and geometry, and other topics, is absorbing."
    Keith Devlin, Wall Street Journal
  • "Stewart revels in intellectual wanderlust, taking us from explanations of why Fibonnaci's sequence shows up so often in nature to rather in-depth treatments of evolutionary theory to number-crunching the possibilities of life on other planets.... Stewart is great at communicating wonder, but it's often his skepticism that makes The Mathematics of Lifesuch an enjoyable read-you get the sense that as a man who fully grasps numbers, he doesn't take kindly to how frequently they are abused in mainstream treatments of science."
    Boston Globe
  • "In this engaging overview, a mathematician describes how the field of biomathematics is answering key questions about the natural world and the origins of life."
    Science News

On Sale
Jan 8, 2013
Page Count
368 pages
Basic Books

Ian Stewart

About the Author

Ian Stewart is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick. He is the accessible and successful (and prolific) author of numerous Basic books on mathematics including, most recently, Calculating the Cosmos. Stewart is also a regular research visitor at the University of Houston, the Institute of Mathematics and Its Applications in Minneapolis, and the Santa Fe Institute. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2001. His writing has appeared in New Scientist, Discover, Scientific American, and many newspapers in the U.K. and U.S. He lives in Coventry, England.

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