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Heavenly Mathematics: The Forgotten Art of Spherical Trigonometry

by Glen Van Brummelen Princeton University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 216 pages
AU$43.99 NZ$46.08
Product Status: In Stock Now
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Heavenly Mathematics traces the rich history of spherical trigonometry, revealing how the cultures of classical Greece, medieval Islam, and the modern West used this forgotten art to chart the heavens and the Earth. Once at the heart of astronomy and ocean-going navigation for two millennia, the discipline was also a mainstay of mathematics education for centuries and taught widely until the 1950s. Glen Van Brummelen explores this exquisite branch of mathematics and its role in ancient astronomy, geography, and cartography; Islamic religious rituals; celestial navigation; polyhedra; stereographic projection; and more. He conveys the sheer beauty of spherical trigonometry, providing readers with a new appreciation of its elegant proofs and often surprising conclusions.


Heavenly Mathematics is illustrated throughout with stunning historical images and informative drawings and diagrams. This unique compendium also features easy-to-use appendixes as well as exercises that originally appeared in textbooks from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries.

Preface vii
1 Heavenly Mathematics 1 2 Exploring the Sphere 23 3 The Ancient Approach 42 4 The Medieval Approach 59 5 The Modern Approach: Right- Angled Triangles 73 6 The Modern Approach: Oblique Triangles 94 7 Areas, Angles, and Polyhedra 110 8 Stereographic Projection 129 9 Navigating by the Stars 151 Appendix A. Ptolemy's Determination of the Sun's Position 173 Appendix B. Textbooks 179 Appendix C. Further Reading 182 Index 189

"Once a mainstay of mathematics, spherical trigonometry no longer appears on school curricula. Here, Glen Van Brummelen reasserts the field's importance, sharing in illuminating detail how it figured in astronomy, cartography and our understanding of Earth's rotation."--Rosalind Metcalfe, Nature


"The present book is very well written; it leaves a clear impression that the author intended to endear--not merely present and teach - spherical trigonometry to the reader. Although not a history book, there are separate chapters shedding light on the approaches to the subject in the ancient, medieval, and modern times. There are also chapters on spherical geometry, polyhedra, stereographic projection and the art of navigation. The book is thoroughly illustrated and is a pleasant read. Chapters end with exercises; the appendices contain a long list of available and not so available textbooks and recommendations for further reading organized by individual chapters. The book made a valuable addition to my library. I freely recommend it to math teachers and curious high schoolers."

Alexander Bogomolny, CTK Insights  


"A no-nonsense introduction to spherical trigonometry."

Book News, Inc.  


"A beautiful popular book."  


"Full of academic, textbook content, the book is a delight to math students. So if you are game for a journey into the world of spherical trigonometry, pick up the book. Van Brummelen gives exercises at the end of the chapters that can be fun."

R. Balashankar, Organiser  


"Heavenly Mathematicsis a truly enjoyable description of the somewhat forgotten science of spherical trigonometry. . . . As readers discover this discipline, they will also appreciate the beauty inherent in the topic."

Glen Van Brummelen is co-ordinator of mathematics at Quest University Canada and former president of the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics.