Category Archives: history

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City (2004)

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City (2004) 390p.

I have read ‘The Devil in the White City’ as a trilogy, together with ‘Nature’s Metropolis‘ and ‘The Jungle’, and the overlap and synergies between the three works is so insightful to understand the roots of modern America, which sprouted in the Gilded Age of Chicago. Americans in general have perhaps a short memory and a shallow desire to understand their history or present, as they are so energetically working to build their future, but as they strive thus forward, they fail to see the straight trail they leave behind. The history of Chicago is interestingly also transcending the contemporary spleen of American culture. ‘Nature’s Metropolis’ more than any other work perhaps, gives a more comprehensive insight into the shared destiny of the northern East Coast and the Great West and South. The history of Chicago is the stitching between the common descent, by opening the gap between the White City and the Black City, between the amazing wonders and creative forces of the American Dream on one hand and the devastating destruction and humiliation of the American Psyche on the other, by describing a meticulous history of the ‘World’s Columbian Exposition‘ of 1893 and a portrait of America’s first serial killer H.H. Holmes.

Looking forward to the feature movie with Leonardo diCaprio by Martin Scorsese.

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William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis (1991)

William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis (1991), 385p.

Without a doubt, one of the best books you can read to understand America in general, and Chicago and the Great West specifically. For a little more comprehensive review see the post about ‘The Devil in the White City‘.

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Keith Devlin, The Man of Numbers (2011)

themanofnumbers_keithdevlin_2011 Keith Devlin, The Man of Numbers (2011) is a largely historical biography about Leonardo Bigollo (~1170 – ~1250 CE), better known in his own time as Leonardo Pisano or in our time as Leonardo Fibonacci.

Fibonacci is best known for the sequence of Fibonacci numbers (1,2,3,5,8,13,21… etc), whose limit of ratios we know as the Divino Proportion coined by Luca Pacioli (1445-1517), the Golden Ratio coined by Martin Ohm (1792-1811), or as it is called in Euclid’s Elements, the extreme and mean ratio. Fibonacci numbers are only one of several mathematical puzzles posed in his Liber Abaci (1202), the Book of Calculation, a teaching book for mercantile administration, in which Leonardo describes the basics of the Hindu-Arab counting system, at the time largely unknown in Europe, where the Roman and medieval systems were still dominant. Devlin argues that the Liber Abaci caused a mathematical revolution that facilitated the mercantile boom of the Renaissance.

The book by Devlin is a little light on facts and mathematics, though none are absent, maybe because there are only few historic facts known about Leonardo, and because most of the math in our time sounds like very basic modern mathematics described in very cryptically described textual puzzles. If you really want to know everything about Fibonacci’s influence, you should read the translation of the Liber Abacci. If you really want to know everything about the mercantile revolution, you should read perhaps about Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464), or about the scientific revolution, you should read perhaps about Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).


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