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Famous Puzzles of Great Mathematicians
Miodrag S. Petković, University of Nis, Serbia

2009; 325 pp; softcover
ISBN-10: 0-8218-4814-3
ISBN-13: 978-0-8218-4814-2
List Price: US$36
Member Price: US$28.80
Order Code: MBK/63
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This entertaining book presents a collection of 180 famous mathematical puzzles and intriguing elementary problems that great mathematicians have posed, discussed, and/or solved. The selected problems do not require advanced mathematics, making this book accessible to a variety of readers.

Mathematical recreations offer a rich playground for both amateur and professional mathematicians. Believing that creative stimuli and aesthetic considerations are closely related, great mathematicians from ancient times to the present have always taken an interest in puzzles and diversions. The goal of this book is to show that famous mathematicians have all communicated brilliant ideas, methodological approaches, and absolute genius in mathematical thoughts by using recreational mathematics as a framework. Concise biographies of many mathematicians mentioned in the text are also included.

The majority of the mathematical problems presented in this book originated in number theory, graph theory, optimization, and probability. Others are based on combinatorial and chess problems, while still others are geometrical and arithmetical puzzles.

This book is intended to be both entertaining as well as an introduction to various intriguing mathematical topics and ideas. Certainly, many stories and famous puzzles can be very useful to prepare classroom lectures, to inspire and amuse students, and to instill affection for mathematics.


General readers and undergraduate students interested in puzzles and recreational mathematics.


"The whole book is very well illustrated with diagrams and pictures as well as clear mathematical formulae making it very readable. ... I would fully recommend the book. It does not require advanced mathematics but it would inspire curiosity to look further. There is valuable material for a teacher perhaps at Advanced level to introduce new topics by way of a puzzle or two. The book is also a good read for those interested in the history of mathematics and mathematicians."

-- Mathematics Today

"Famous Puzzles of Great Mathematicians contains a nice collection of recreational mathematics problems and puzzles, problems whose solutions do not rely on knowledge of advanced mathematics. ... Despite its recreational nature, this book does not give up on being rigorous in its arguments, nor does it shy away from presenting some difficult problems, albeit solvable by elementary methods. ... What makes this book especially compelling is Petković's efforts in putting the problems into context. He makes it clear that math is a human subject, with its own stories and history. ... [I] wholeheartedly recommend it to a wide variety of audiences. ... Petković aims to bring his readers closer to the ideas of brilliant mathematicians, and I believe he succeeds. This book would be especially appropriate for undergraduates or even high school students with aptitude in mathematics. They should find Famous Puzzles of Great Mathematicians both very informative and fun, and might even become inspired to explore a career in math."

-- Lev Reyzin, ACM SIGACT News

"Famous Puzzles of Great Mathematicians reminds us that puzzles are a big part of the history of mathematics. I daresay many mathematicians were sucked into the field by puzzles, such as those disseminated by the late Martin Gardner in his "Mathematical Games" column in Scientific American, 1956-1986. ... What is a puzzle, anyway -- in particular, a mathematical puzzle? To me it is an engaging, self-contained mathematical question. ... [This book] ... contains (by my debatable count) 180 puzzles of which 30% are tasks, 25% historical, 20% natural, 10% examplars, 10% riddles, 4% obstacles, and 1% paradoxes. To these the book adds some entertaining and enlightening information about great mathematicians from Archimedes to Knuth. The puzzles themselves are (mostly) solved with undergraduate-level mathematics, making the book ideal for leaving within easy reach of current or potential mathematics majors."

-- Peter Winkler, American Mathematical Monthly

"The author has done an admirably accurate and thorough job in presenting his material... The problems are here, their histories are here, the mathematics needed to solve them is here. The book would be the ideal graduation present for a mathematics major, an ideal prize for the winner of an integration contest, an ideal book to have lying around a mathematics department (if properly chained down, that is)."

-- MAA Reviews

"This book will be accessible to undergraduate students and should also be of interest to faculty looking for interesting problems to use in their teaching."

-- CHOICE Magazine

"The selected problems do not require advanced mathematics, making this book accessible to a variety of readers."

-- SciTech Book News

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