What We Are Reading Today: The Secret Formula

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Updated 20 May 2020

What We Are Reading Today: The Secret Formula

Author: Fabio Toscano

The Secret Formula tells the story of two Renaissance mathematicians whose jealousies, intrigues, and contentious debates led to the discovery of a formula for the solution of the cubic equation. Niccolò Tartaglia was a talented and ambitious teacher who possessed a secret formula—the key to unlocking a seemingly unsolvable, 2,000-year-old mathematical problem. He wrote it down in the form of a poem to prevent other mathematicians from stealing it. Gerolamo Cardano was a physician, gifted scholar, and notorious gambler who would not hesitate to use flattery and even trickery to learn Tartaglia’s secret.
Set against the backdrop of sixteenth-century Italy, The Secret Formula provides new and compelling insights into the peculiarities of Renaissance mathematics while bringing a turbulent and culturally vibrant age to life.
It was an era when mathematicians challenged each other in intellectual duels held outdoors before enthusiastic crowds. Success not only enhanced the winner’s reputation, but could result in prize money and professional acclaim. After hearing of Tartaglia’s spectacular victory in one such contest in Venice, Cardano invited him to Milan, determined to obtain his secret by whatever means necessary.

What We Are Reading Today: The Cubans by Anthony DePalma

Updated 31 May 2020

What We Are Reading Today: The Cubans by Anthony DePalma

The Cubans from Anthony DePalma, a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times,  is a must-read for anyone interested in Latin America, say critics.

“In his thoroughly researched and reported book, replete with human detail and probing insight, DePalma renders a Cuba few tourists will ever see,” said Marie Arana in a review for  The New York Times.

DePalma burrows deep into one enclave of Havana, the historic borough of Guanabacoa, some three miles southeast of the capital.

“Lying across the famous harbor from the city center, Guanabacoa is close enough to have ties to Havana’s businesses, politics and culture,” he writes.

“Yet it operates at its own speed, with its own idiosyncrasies and an overriding sense, as one Cuban told me, of ‘geographic fatalism’ that comes from being so close to the capital, yet so very hard to reach from there.”

The book sadly leaves scant hope that anything will change in Cuba in the foreseeable future, but is testament to the resilience and ingenuity of the Cuban people.