Few American lives have been as celebrated--or as closely scrutinized--as that of Benjamin Franklin. Yet until now Franklin's biographers have downplayed his interest in mathematics, at best portraying it as the idle musings of a brilliant and ever-restless mind. In Benjamin Franklin's Numbers, Paul Pasles reveals a side of the iconic statesman, scientist, and writer that few Americans know--his mathematical side.
In fact, Franklin indulged in many areas of mathematics, including number theory, geometry, statistics, and economics. In this generously illustrated book, Pasles gives us the first mathematical biography of Benjamin Franklin. He draws upon previously unknown sources to illustrate Franklin's genius for numbers as never before. Magic squares and circles were a lifelong fascination of Franklin's. Here, for the first time, Pasles gathers every one of these marvelous creations together in one place. He explains the mathematics behind them and Franklin's hugely popular Poor Richard's Almanac, which featured such things as population estimates and a host of mathematical digressions. Pasles even includes optional math problems that challenge readers to match wits with the bespectacled Founding Father himself. Written for a general audience, this book assumes no technical skills beyond basic arithmetic.
Benjamin Franklin's Numbers is a delightful blend of biography, history, and popular mathematics. If you think you already know Franklin's story, this entertaining and richly detailed book will make you think again.
"Pasles...speculates gleefully on the oft-denied mathematical genius of Benjamin Franklin...Drawing on Franklin's letters and journals as well as modern-day reconstructions of his library, Pasles touches on Franklin's fondness for magazines of mathematical diversions; publication of arithmetic problems in Poor Richard's Almanac; startlingly accurate projections of population growth and cost-benefit arguments against slavery."--Publisher's Weekly
"In Franklin's Numbers, a book mixing intellectual history and mathematical puzzles (with solutions appended), Paul Pasles brings out a less-celebrated sphere of Franklin's intellect. He makes the case for the founding father as a mathematician."--Jared Wunsch, Nature
"Pasles delivers surprising news to Sudoku lovers: Benjamin Franklin once shared their passion...Pasles illuminates Franklin's innovative use of mathematical logic in settling moral questions and in assessing population trends. Franklin's mathematical pursuits thus emerge as a complement to his much-lauded work in politics and science. An unexpected but welcome perspective on the genial genius of Philadelphia."--Bryce Christensen, Booklist
"There is hardly a discipline on which Franklin did not stamp his mark during the 18th century. But the role that mathematics played in his life has been overlooked, argues Paul Pasles. Franklin, for instance, was fascinated with magic squares, and this book provides plenty of background to help the reader admire his interest."--New Scientist
"[This is] a book that is an easy read for the innumerate but which also provides nourishment for those more skilled in the niceties of math...Also included are some contemporary puzzles that offer the reader the chance to contest skills with Franklin himself."--James Srodes, The Washington Times
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: The Book Franklin Never Wrote 1
Chapter 2: A Brief History of Magic 20
Chapter 3: Almanacs and Assembly 61 Interlude: Philomath Math 83
Chapter 4: Publisher, Theorist, Inventor, Innovator 87
Chapter 5: A Visit to the Country 117
Chapter 6: The Mutation Spreads (Adventures Among the English) 141
Chapter 7: Circling the Square 158
Chapter 8: Newly Unearthed Discoveries 191
Chapter 9: Legacy 226