Hesiod's Anvil: Falling and Spinning Through Heaven and Earth

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MAA, Jul 26, 2007 - Mathematics - 344 pages
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This book is about how poets, philosophers, storytellers, and scientists have described motion, beginning with Hesiod, a contemporary of Homer, who imagined that the expanse of heaven and the depth of hell was the distance that an anvil falls in nine days. This book is aimed at students who have finished a year-long courses in calculus, but it can be used as a supplemental text in calculus II, vector calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, and modeling. It blends with equal voice romantic whimsy and derived equations, and anyone interested in mathematics will find new and surprising ideas about motion and the people who thought about it. Some of the things readers will learn is that Dante's implicit model of the earth implies a black hole at its core, that Edmond Halley championed a hollow earth, and that Da Vinci knew that the acceleration due to the earth's gravity was a constant. There are chapters modeling Jules Verne's and H.G. Wells' imaginative flights to the moon and back, the former novelist using a great cannon and the latter using a gravity-shielding material. The book analyzes Edgar Alan Poe's descending pendulum, H.G. Wells' submersible falling and rising in the Marianas Trench, a train rolling along a tunnel through a rotating earth, and a pebble falling down a hole without resistance. It compares trajectories of balls thrown on the Little Prince's asteroid and on Arthur C. Clarke's rotating space station, and it solves an old problem that was perhaps inspired by one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The penultimate chapter is a story, based upon the Mayans, that loosely ties together the ideas about falling and spinning motion discussed in the book. Nearly all the chapters have exercises, some straightforward and some open ended, that may serve as the beginnings of student's honors projects.

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Falling through a Rotating Earth
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Comments on Selected Exercises

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About the author (2007)

Andrew J. Simoson was born in Minnesota, taught American red Cross life-saving on the city beach of Escanaba on Lake Michigan for three summers, earned a BS in mathematics from oral Roberts University in 1975, and PhD in mathematics under Leonard Asimow at the University of Wyoming in 1979, working on extensions of separating theorems in functional analysis. Since then, he has been chairman of the mathematics department at King College in Bristol, Tennessee, and has authored over thirty papers in various mathematical journals, seven of them being joint research with undergraduates. The paper, “The Gravity of Hades,” which is essentially Chapter II of this text, won the Chauvenet Prize for expository writing in 2007. He has twice been a Fulbright professor, at the University of Botswana, 1990-91, and at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, 1997-98. Having two sons, he was a long-time Cub Scout den leader, building model rockets, making marionettes and directing skits, leading camping and canoeing expeditions. He has also been a long-time youth soccer coach, and refereed many games. He and his wife regularly teach a college ballroom dance class each spring term. He is currently a member f the MAA and is an editorial board member of Primus, a journal on undergraduate mathematics teaching.

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