December 6, 2022

Book Review: Descartes’ Secret Notebook by Amir D. Aczel

Descartes Notebook

Descartes’ Secret Notebook by Amir D. Aczel was thoroughly enjoyable.  Even if mathematics is not your primary interest this book is still a fascinating piece of history.  Descartes lived in fear of the Inquisition from the Catholics, but having been born Catholic he lived equally in fear of persecution from the Protestants.  When he was young he also had serious health problems, so there was no shortage of adversity.  Yet an amazing intellect was more powerful.  Through the many journeys and associations of Descartes one may learn much about the Renaissance world.

From the perspective of a scientist and mathematician it is delightful to see the relationships between Descartes and many of his contemporaries including Kepler, Newton, Leibnitz and others.  It appears that Descartes’ may have been on the verge of discovering calculus but feared the heresy of discussing infinity.  Additionally he had insight into the future work of mathematicians such as Euler.

Descartes appears elsewhere on this site, namely on the page for Cartesian Battleship.

Cartesian Battleship

Cartesian Battleship

Descartes sank my battleship?  Well, not exactly.  But, the Cartesian coordinate system is very useful for so many things.  Children get a sense of the game from the Battleship game.  Milton Bradley used a simplified approach with letters along one axis and numbers along the other.

For teaching mathematics to students a full Cartesian coordinate system including an origin and positive and negative numbers is useful.  The great thing is, students are intrinsically motivated to learn the coordinate system in order to play the game.

Read the full article about Cartesian Battleship, and download the free templates to transform your own game.