Fearful Symmetry: Is God a Geometer?

Ian Stewart + Martin Golubitsky

Penguin 1992
A book review by Danny Yee © 1993 http://dannyreviews.com/
My first acquaintance with Ian Stewart was during my undergraduate study of mathematics, when his extremely readable Galois Theory was one of the textbooks I enjoyed most. Recently he has turned his hand to popular mathematics, and Fearful Symmetry is his latest offering. The early chapters provide an introduction to symmetry (along with some very basic group theory) and symmetry breaking. Those with a formal mathematics background can probably skip these. The following chapters deal with the application of these ideas to various areas of the natural world — crystals, rotating cylinders of fluid, various areas of astronomy, developmental biology, and animal gaits. Then there is a chapter on the relationship between symmetry and chaos. The final chapter gets more philosophical and discusses the extent to which symmetry is in the mind of the beholder, and, if so, which beholder, us or God?

I was already familiar with the introductory (mathematical) material so I can't really judge how accessible Fearful Symmetry would be to those without a mathematics background. However the authors seem to have done a very good job of avoiding formal complexity and I guess that almost anyone could follow their outline. The body of the book should be of interest to both laymen and scientists; I found the chapter on animal gaits particularly interesting as the material was new to me, but the chapters are largely independent and readers can pick and choose. I envy those who are so familiar with the material that they find all of Fearful Symmetry old-hat!

November 1993

External links:
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Related reviews:
- books about mathematics
- books about physics
- more popular science
%T Fearful Symmetry
%S Is God a Geometer?
%A Stewart, Ian
%A Golubitsky, Martin
%I Penguin
%D 1992
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN 0140130470
%P xix,287pp