The Golden Ratio

Author: Mario Livio
Year: 2002
Genre: Science / Math

Before I read this book, I'd heard about a lot of the astonishing mathematical properties of Φ, as well as the Golden Ratio's aesthetic appeal. What struck me reading Livio's book is not the math itself (as interesting as that was; I haven't studied math seriously in many years). No, what really caught my attention was the number of times that Φ has been cited as the basis for great works of art, that turned out to be pure B.S. Consider the following:

  • Φ is not the ratio of the height of the Parthenon to its width.
  • Φ has no role in the design of the Pyramids.
  • While Da Vinci did illustrate a mathematical book on Φ (The Divine Proportion by Luca Pacioli), he did not use it as a guide to composing the Mona Lisa or anything else.
  • Mozart and Mondrian didn't use it, either.
So, The Golden Ratio succeeds as a debunker's compendium. Livio makes the history of Golden Ratio fanaticism seem like so much Da Vinci Code-style overblown hokum. (All the more ironic that Dan Brown's praise for The Golden Ratio is given pride of place on the front cover.)

After that, the best part of the book for me was the end, where Livio digresses into fractal geometry and the enduring philosophical conundrum of why mathematics (a purely abstract human invention) mirrors the physical universe so precisely. These fundamental questions are more interesting to me than any laundry list of Φ trivia.

No comments: