What We Are Reading Today: Taming the Unknown

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Updated 13 July 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Taming the Unknown

Edited by Victor J.Katz and Karen Hunger Parshall

What is algebra? For some, it is an abstract language of x’s and y’s. For mathematics majors and professional mathematicians, it is a world of axiomatically defined constructs like groups, rings, and fields.

Taming the Unknown considers how these two seemingly different types of algebra evolved and how they relate. Victor Katz and Karen Parshall explore the history of algebra, from its roots in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, China, and India, through its development in the medieval Islamic world and medieval and early modern Europe, to its modern form in the early 20th century.

Defining algebra originally as a collection of techniques for determining unknowns, the authors trace the development of these techniques from geometric beginnings in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and classical Greece.

They show how similar problems were tackled in Alexandrian Greece, in China, and in India, then look at how medieval Islamic scholars shifted to an algorithmic stage, which was further developed by medieval and early modern European mathematicians.

With the introduction of a flexible and operative symbolism in the 16th and 17th centuries, algebra entered into a dynamic period characterized by the analytic geometry that could evaluate curves represented by equations in two variables, thereby solving problems in the physics of motion.

This new symbolism freed mathematicians to study equations of degrees higher than two and three, ultimately leading to the present abstract era.

What We Are Reading Today: Journalists between Hitler and Adenauer

Updated 03 August 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Journalists between Hitler and Adenauer

Author: Volker R. Berghahn

Journalists between Hitler and Adenauer takes an in-depth look at German journalism from the late Weimar period through the postwar decades. Illuminating the roles played by journalists in the media metropolis of Hamburg, Volker Berghahn focuses on the lives and work of three remarkable individuals: Marion Countess Dönhoff, distinguished editor of Die Zeit; Paul Sethe, “the grand old man of West German journalism” and Hans Zehrer, editor in chief of Die Welt.
All born before 1914, Dönhoff, Sethe, and Zehrer witnessed the Weimar Republic’s end and opposed Hitler. When the latter seized power in 1933, they were, like their fellow Germans, confronted with the difficult choice of entering exile, becoming part of the active resistance, or joining the Nazi Party.
 Instead, they followed a fourth path—“inner emigration”—psychologically distancing themselves from the regime, their writing falling into a gray zone between grudging collaboration and active resistance. During the war, Dönhoff and Sethe had links to the 1944 conspiracy to kill Hitler, while Zehrer remained out of sight on a North Sea island. In the decades after 1945, all three became major figures in the West German media. Berghahn considers how these journalists and those who chose inner emigration interpreted Germany’s horrific past and how they helped to morally and politically shape the reconstruction of the country.