# Steve Nadis: A History in Sum

Written by Lynne Lamberg Blog

**A HISTORY IN SUM: 150 YEARS OF MATHEMATICS AT HARVARD
(1825-1975)**

Steve Nadis (NASW member) and Shing-Tung Yau

Harvard University Press, Nov 1, 2013, $39.95

ISBN: 978-0674725003

Steve Nadis

*Nadis reports:*

*A History in Sum* grew out of my previous book, *The Shape of Inner Space* (Basic Books, 2010), which I also wrote with Harvard mathematician Shing-Tung Yau.

By the time the former book was complete, Yau had become chair of the Harvard Mathematics Department, and asked me if I’d be interested in writing a book about the history of mathematics at Harvard. I said yes right away, even though I did not yet appreciate the richness of the subject.

I quickly discovered, in the course of my research, that the mathematicians from Harvard who’d made the biggest contributions to their respective fields (and in some cases *inventing* their fields) — people like Benjamin Peirce, George David Birkhoff, Lars Ahlfors, and Oscar Zariski — were fascinating individuals with compelling life stories. I also learned that the history of mathematics at Harvard, the nation’s oldest university, constituted a vital part of the history of mathematics in the United States and beyond.

Something else became apparent while writing this book that I probably should have known at the outset: describing 20th century mathematics to nonprofessionals — including topics like algebraic geometry, complex analysis, category theory, and representation theory — is extraordinarily difficult. A mathematician friend told me in the early going that I was crazy to attempt it. I was relieved afterwards, when he reported that I just might have pulled it off.

Although I’m quite proud of this book, I realize that it may not be for everyone. Another friend I know through coaching youth soccer couldn’t quite grasp the notion of the history of mathematics. “Two plus two equals four,” he said. “And that’s never going to change.”

*Contact info:*

- Steve Nadis, (617)876-7143, stevenadis@comcast.net
- Publicist: Margaux Leonard, 617-495-4714, margaux_leonard@harvard.edu
- Book website: www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674725003

**Buy this book now in the ScienceWriters bookstore.**

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Send info and images to Lynne Lamberg, NASW book editor, llamberg@nasw.org.