Blog on Math Blogs

Mathematical Digest


Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"An Inclusive Perspective": Review of Mathematics Elsewhere: An Exploration of Ideas Across Cultures, by Marcia Ascher. Reviewed by Helaine Selin. Science, 1 November 2002, pages 969-970.
"Mathematics off the main line": Review of Mathematics Elsewhere: An Exploration of Ideas Across Cultures, by Marcia Ascher. Reviewed by John O'Connor. Nature, 10 October 2002.

This book falls under the rubric of "ethnomathematics," which studies mathematics as it arises in different cultures around the world. The book ranges over a wide array of cultures---South America, the south Pacific, Europe, Asia, and Africa---and over different kinds of mathematics. The book also discusses the use of mathematics for a wide variety of purposes, such as making calendars, keeping track of kinship relations, and constructing maps. Selin's review is mostly positive, though it says Ascher's approach "sometimes makes the reading a little heavy for lay readers." O'Connor praises Ascher for presenting yet more evidence that many mathematical ideas regarded by Western mathematicians as recent have roots in geographically diverse cultures, and also developed independently. The sampling of topics covered includes calendars and topology. The reviewer recommends the book for mathematicians, who "will enjoy seeing the subject they love crop up in apparently unexpected places," and for non-mathematicians, who "should realize that some of the processes that seem to appear naturally in everyday life do in fact have a mathematical content."

--- Annette Emerson & Allyn Jackson