Originally released in the UK as The Story of Maths, Athena Learning has repackaged this four-episode DVD series for North Americans under the culturally appropriate title The Story of Math. Hosted by Marcus du Sautoy viewers are taken through an intriguing journey through the history of mathematical developments throughout time and space in four one-hour episodes.
Taking viewers on-site, Sautoy proves himself not only to be thoroughly cognizant of the mathematical concepts he describes and demonstrates through hands-on examples, and digital models (he is after all an Oxford math professor), but he also proves incredibly engaging and its difficult to resist his enthusiasm for the subject. Sautoy travels to Mesopotamia to Egypt, on to Greece, and into the East to explore Chinese, Indian, and Islamic mathematic developments, before heading to Europe and then to America as The Story of Math marches across time.
What I found the most intriguing weren’t the mathematical proofs themselves, but rather the portraits of the mathematicians, fascinating men (and at times women) who bravely broke new ground, and blazed new trails. Sautoy also explores some of the ‘final frontiers’ of mathematics today, and includes interviews with those struggling to blast through the limitations of our current mathematical understanding. This theme is further explored in a bonus DVD “The Music of the Primes” that is included in the box set.
Sautoy is clearly enchanted by the conundrum that deciphering the prime numbers presents. While the series is generally very balanced ideologically, Sautoy does wax poetic about nature on this bonus disc, somehow attributing it with creator-like qualities and giving it the power to design math.
A booklet-style viewer’s guide that includes episode summaries, discussion questions, and a further exploration of mathematical terms and principles is also included with the set. The DVDs themselves are all equipped with standard episode and scene selection indexes, on-screen text biographies of the mathematicians mentioned on each disc, and optional English subtitles.
The Story of Math makes fascinating viewing for high school math students and armchair mathematicians alike, while being eminently accessible for lay-viewers without a strong foundation in math (such as myself).