Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr


Rating: 2.5 Stars

I hate math. I mean, I really hate it. It made me miserable for years. What made my misery ever worse is that my mom is really good at math, so I could never understand when she would try to explain my homework to me, and she could never understand why I couldn't understand her.

It might seem strange then, that I am completely obsessed with Hypatia, a mathematician who lived over 1500 years ago. Part of the allure I think, is that we know so little about her - kind of like Boudicca, another fabulously fierce heroine my daughter will some day know all about. Or, know as much as she can, given how little concrete information we have about either of these women.

And therein, of course, lies the problem. There is so little information about Hypatia herself, that one can hardly write an entire book about her, Instead, one would have to not only include the facts we do know, but give explanation of the times she lived in, the math and philosophy she worked on, and so forth. 

That is exactly what the author does, and really it is almost too much. The math alone is very in-depth and academic. I am all for scholarly and academic texts, I read them often. But for someone like myself who is predisposed to hate math because that gene skipped me somehow, this was like reading a text book at times. I wanted to like this book and for it to be everything I was looking for, but it can't. That is no fault of the author, he did the best he could with the information he had to work with, but there is simply not enough know for certain to fill a book.

The author uses what sources still exist to flesh out Hypatia and at least give her a form - but in truth we do not even know what she looked liked. I appreciate though, that there is not a lot of conjecture here. In truth, very little of the book is about Hypatia. Without beating a dead horse too much, there just is not enough info.

So, I can really only recommend this one to people who love math. Hypatia is there of course, and we know what we can. Sadly though, that is not much and I fear that will never change.

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