An Imaginary Tale: The Story of √1Today complex numbers have such widespread practical usefrom electrical engineering to aeronauticsthat few people would expect the story behind their derivation to be filled with adventure and enigma. In An Imaginary Tale, Paul Nahin tells the 2000yearold history of one of mathematics' most elusive numbers, the square root of minus one, also known as i. He recreates the baffling mathematical problems that conjured it up, and the colorful characters who tried to solve them. In 1878, when two brothers stole a mathematical papyrus from the ancient Egyptian burial site in the Valley of Kings, they led scholars to the earliest known occurrence of the square root of a negative number. The papyrus offered a specific numerical example of how to calculate the volume of a truncated square pyramid, which implied the need for i. In the first century, the mathematicianengineer Heron of Alexandria encountered I in a separate project, but fudged the arithmetic; medieval mathematicians stumbled upon the concept while grappling with the meaning of negative numbers, but dismissed their square roots as nonsense. By the time of Descartes, a theoretical use for these elusive square rootsnow called "imaginary numbers"was suspected, but efforts to solve them led to intense, bitter debates. The notorious i finally won acceptance and was put to use in complex analysis and theoretical physics in Napoleonic times. Addressing readers with both a general and scholarly interest in mathematics, Nahin weaves into this narrative entertaining historical facts and mathematical discussions, including the application of complex numbers and functions to important problems, such as Kepler's laws of planetary motion and ac electrical circuits. This book can be read as an engaging history, almost a biography, of one of the most evasive and pervasive "numbers" in all of mathematics. 
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User Review  aethercowboy  LibraryThingOn occasion, I find myself in the math/science section of the bookstore. Having a very thorough background in mathematics, I find it interesting to read books written by notable professionals in their ... Read full review
This book was a lot of fun to read and is quite well written. By the end I really felt a lot more comfortable with the concept and use of imaginary numbers. The history is fascinating, of course dominated by Euler and Gauss but many other names that are known from different math classes. There is a lot of detailed algebra which requires being halfawake to follow.
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An Imaginary Tale: The Story of [the Square Root of Minus One] Paul J. Nahin No preview available  2006 