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.
Paul C. Pasles is associate professor of mathematical sciences at Villanova University.
"Here's a book like no other, in which the life and times of Benjamin Franklin are viewed through a mathematical lens. It is at once lively and scholarly, and contains much fascinating material that will be new to mathematicians, historians, and everyone else. Did you know that the success of the American Revolution may have depended on magic squares? Paul Pasles tells why. Don't worry—the book is equation free."—Underwood Dudley, author of Numerology
"As a mathematician and Philadelphian, I was delighted to learn of how extensive were Franklin's contributions to mathematics. Ranging from topics in 'social arithmetic' such as demographics, utility theory, the twin scourges of hereditary advantage and slavery, daylight savings time, and even war and peace to puzzles, combinatorics, and magic squares, his work, as revealed in Paul Pasles's wonderful new book, reveals another facet of this polymathic statesman."—John Allen Paulos, author of Innumeracy
"Paul C. Pasles is the first excellent mathematician to appreciate and to explain clearly the many aspects of what he has called Franklin's 'miraculous numerical creations.' In the capstone, Pasles explains how and why Franklin's 'ultra-magical square' is a mathematical masterpiece."—J. A. Leo Lemay, University of Delaware
"Pasles has written a wonderful book demonstrating that Benjamin Franklin, in addition to all of his other talents, had a 'mathematical' mind. The book fills in the gaps left by Franklin's other biographers by giving us, for the first time, the details of his mathematical work, in particular his work on magic squares."—Victor J. Katz, author of A History of Mathematics
"Paul Pasles tells an entertaining and rigorous story, weaving together a familiar biography with new research on Franklin's innovative work on magic squares. Marching together, Ben Franklin and Paul Pasles may yet be able to rescue that vanishing viewpoint that finds both purpose and playfulness in public life and mathematics."—Woollcott Smith, coauthor of The Cartoon Guide to Statistics
"It takes someone with a mathematician's background to be able to analyze the true talent that Franklin exhibited in the field, and until now none of his biographers has had the requisite knowledge. Pasles's portrayal of both the human side and logical self of Benjamin Franklin is captivating."—David E. Zitarelli, Temple University