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The enthralling story of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans, whose insights transformed the ancient world and still inspire the realms of science, mathematics, philosophy, and the arts. "Pythagoras's influence on the ideas, and therefore on the destiny, of the human race was probably greater than that of any single man before or after him," wrote Arthur Koestler. Though most p The enthralling story of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans, whose insights transformed the ancient world and still inspire the realms of science, mathematics, philosophy, and the arts. "Pythagoras's influence on the ideas, and therefore on the destiny, of the human race was probably greater than that of any single man before or after him," wrote Arthur Koestler. Though most people know of him only for the famous Pythagorean Theorem (a2 +b2=c2), in fact the pillars of our scientific tradition—belief that the universe is rational, that there is unity to all things, and that numbers and mathematics are a powerful guide to truth about nature and the cosmos—hark back to the convictions of this legendary sixth-century B.C. scholar. Born around 570 B.C. on the cultured Aegean island of Samos, Pythagoras (according to ancient tales) studied with the sage Thales nearby at Miletus, and with priests and scribes in Egypt and Babylon. Eventually he founded his own school at Croton in southern Italy, where he and his followers began to unravel the surprising deep truths concealed behind such ordinary tasks as tuning a lyre. While considering why some string lengths produced beautiful sounds and others discordant ones, they uncovered the ratios of musical harmony, and recognized that hidden behind the confusion and complexity of nature are patterns and orderly relationships. They had surprised the Creator at his drafting board and had glimpsed the mind of God! Some of them later would also find something darker in numbers and nature: irrationality, a revelation so unsettling and subversive that it may have contributed to the destruction of their brotherhood. Praised for her ability to illuminate complex subjects, Kitty Ferguson brilliantly evokes the archaic world of Pythagoras, showing how ideas spread in antiquity, chronicling the influence he and his followers have had on so many extraordinary people in the history of Western thought and science, and bringing a poignant human saga to readers who are daily reminded that harmony and chaos can and do coexist.


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The enthralling story of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans, whose insights transformed the ancient world and still inspire the realms of science, mathematics, philosophy, and the arts. "Pythagoras's influence on the ideas, and therefore on the destiny, of the human race was probably greater than that of any single man before or after him," wrote Arthur Koestler. Though most p The enthralling story of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans, whose insights transformed the ancient world and still inspire the realms of science, mathematics, philosophy, and the arts. "Pythagoras's influence on the ideas, and therefore on the destiny, of the human race was probably greater than that of any single man before or after him," wrote Arthur Koestler. Though most people know of him only for the famous Pythagorean Theorem (a2 +b2=c2), in fact the pillars of our scientific tradition—belief that the universe is rational, that there is unity to all things, and that numbers and mathematics are a powerful guide to truth about nature and the cosmos—hark back to the convictions of this legendary sixth-century B.C. scholar. Born around 570 B.C. on the cultured Aegean island of Samos, Pythagoras (according to ancient tales) studied with the sage Thales nearby at Miletus, and with priests and scribes in Egypt and Babylon. Eventually he founded his own school at Croton in southern Italy, where he and his followers began to unravel the surprising deep truths concealed behind such ordinary tasks as tuning a lyre. While considering why some string lengths produced beautiful sounds and others discordant ones, they uncovered the ratios of musical harmony, and recognized that hidden behind the confusion and complexity of nature are patterns and orderly relationships. They had surprised the Creator at his drafting board and had glimpsed the mind of God! Some of them later would also find something darker in numbers and nature: irrationality, a revelation so unsettling and subversive that it may have contributed to the destruction of their brotherhood. Praised for her ability to illuminate complex subjects, Kitty Ferguson brilliantly evokes the archaic world of Pythagoras, showing how ideas spread in antiquity, chronicling the influence he and his followers have had on so many extraordinary people in the history of Western thought and science, and bringing a poignant human saga to readers who are daily reminded that harmony and chaos can and do coexist.

30 review for The Music of Pythagoras: How an Ancient Brotherhood Cracked the Code of the Universe and Lit the Path From Antiquity to Outer Space

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

    Kitty Fergusen's research is remarkable in depth and thoroughly covered. Though her writing is cumbersome at times, and she indulges periodic tangeants, I found the information decently accesible. For my purposes, as a research reference, it is excellent and nearly invaluable. She has, in essence, put together a reading list complete with commentary. It is definitely not a light or entertaining read, but it is full of excellent hard to come by information.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    290517: more an explication of the historical influence of 'Pythagoras' as a social/historical concept, this is sort of a postmodern history around the various ways he was interpreted. because he wrote nothing, required secrecy from followers, his philosophy of numbers, harmony, transmigration, was up for interpretation from the moment he died. and quite an influence. there is a long focus on music of the spheres that is probably more interesting to musicians, but his ongoing effects on theoreti 290517: more an explication of the historical influence of 'Pythagoras' as a social/historical concept, this is sort of a postmodern history around the various ways he was interpreted. because he wrote nothing, required secrecy from followers, his philosophy of numbers, harmony, transmigration, was up for interpretation from the moment he died. and quite an influence. there is a long focus on music of the spheres that is probably more interesting to musicians, but his ongoing effects on theoretical/mathematical exploration of the universe is fascinating to anyone...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Melanie Richards

    This is a wonderful tribute to the father of modern science, bringing his ideas up until our time.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Boris Limpopo

    Ferguson, Kitty (2008). The Music of Pythagoras: How an Ancient Brotherhood Cracked the Code of the Universe and Lit the Path from Antiquity to Outer Space. New York: Walker & Company. 2008. ISBN 9780802716316. Pagine 384. 31,91 € Mi accorgo che da qualche tempo sembrano prevalere, nelle mie recensioni e dunque nel mio apprezzamento dei libri che leggo, gli aspetti negativi su quelli positivi. Ci tengo, invece, a dare di me l’immagine di un inveterato ottimista, invece che di un pedante criticone Ferguson, Kitty (2008). The Music of Pythagoras: How an Ancient Brotherhood Cracked the Code of the Universe and Lit the Path from Antiquity to Outer Space. New York: Walker & Company. 2008. ISBN 9780802716316. Pagine 384. 31,91 € Mi accorgo che da qualche tempo sembrano prevalere, nelle mie recensioni e dunque nel mio apprezzamento dei libri che leggo, gli aspetti negativi su quelli positivi. Ci tengo, invece, a dare di me l’immagine di un inveterato ottimista, invece che di un pedante criticone: antepongo quindi gli aspetti positivi di questo libro su quelli negativi. La sovraccoperta, che vedete qui sopra, è bellissima e raffinatissima. Il testo è chiaro e comprensibile. Adesso le critiche: di Pitagora non si sa quasi nulla. Questa circostanza rende tutta la prima parte del libro – 100 pagine a essere generosi, anche di più se vogliamo aggiungere che si sa ben poco anche dei pitagorici e che con questo ci si spinge fino all’epoca romana – del tutto congetturale e un po’ inane. Insomma, non c’è semplicemente abbastanza materiale per tentare di scrivere una biografia di Pitagora (ed è qui che i tentativi di Kitty Ferguson, che vanno avanti per pagine, fanno venire la tentazione di mollare il libro). E sui primi pitagorici non andiamo molto meglio. Il resto del volume è dedicato alle influenze di Pitagora sul pensiero medievale, moderno e contemporaneo. E qui sorge un secondo problema: data tutta l’incertezza sulla figura storica di Pitagora, che non ha scritto nemmeno un rigo e di cui è dubbia persino l’esistenza, quasi tutto quello che sappiamo di lui e delle sue dottrine è filtrato da Platone e dal platonismo. E dunque è abbastanza difficile separare l’influsso del pitagorismo da quello del platonismo e del neoplatonismo. A me – ma sarò certamente un sempliciotto – basta e avanza leggere la storia della filosofia e della scienza come percorsa dalle correnti sotterranee dell’aristotelismo (nelle sue diverse incarnazioni) e del platonismo (nelle sue diverse incarnazioni). Se poi Platone sia più figlio di Pitagora che di Socrate mi sembra una questione relativamente poco interessante. Dev’essere colpa di Raffaello. Platone e Aristotele wikipedia.org Oppure di quello che non si studia negli Stati Uniti. La scuola di Atene amazon.org Occorre ammettere, però, che Kitty Ferguson è consapevole del problema, anche se lo liquida con poco più di una battuta: When the members of Plato’s Academy before and after his death in 348/347 B. C. thought about Pythagoras and called themselves Pythagorean, they had in mind mainly Pythagoras as seen through Plato’s eyes. However, to say that Pythagoras was reinvented as a “late Platonist,” as some scholars insist, is to be too glib and overconfident about where to draw the lines between original Pythagorean thought, Pythagorean thought shortly after Pythagoras’ death, Archytas, Plato, and Plato’s pupils, some of whom attributed their own ideas to more ancient Pythagoreans and even to Pythagoras. As time passed, the line between Platonism and what called itself Pythagorean became increasingly difficult to discern. Eventually the two were indistinguishable. [pp. 145-146] D’altro canto, la tesi che tutto quello che di Platone non ci piace venga da Pitagora era già stata esposta da Bertrand Russell nella sua Storia della filosofia occidentale e Kitty Ferguson ne è ben consapevole: Vehemently rejecting the idea that humans have any grounds for discussion of an ideal world beyond what can be extrapolated in a reasonable manner from what we experience with our five senses, Russell was convinced that “what appears as Platonism is, when analyzed, found to be in essence Pythagoreanism.” It was from Pythagoras that Plato got the “Orphic element” in his philosophy, “the religious trend, the belief in immortality, the other-worldliness, the priestly tone, all that is involved in the simile of the cave, his respect for mathematics, and his intimate intermingling of intellect and mysticism.” Russell blamed Pythagoras for what he saw as Plato’s view that the realm of mathematics was a realm that was an ideal, of which everyday, sense-based, empirical experience would always fall short. [p. 298] *** Qualche citazione. The music interval of the octave was the “first consonance,” which Philolaus identified by the name harmonia. The “second consonance” was the interval of a fifth; the next was the interval of a fourth. Add the four nu,mbers in these ratios (1, 2, 3, 4) and the result is 10, the perfect number. The numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 had additional significance for Philolaus. They underly the progression from point to line to surface to solid. [p. 107] [a p. 239 si cita un passe del De re aedificatoria di Leon Battista Alberti tradotta in inglese, ma io – traduzione per traduzione – vi propongo quella in italiano di Cosimo Bartoli] Certamente io sempre più mi confermo nell’opinione di Pittagora, che la natura sia simile a se stessa in tutte le sue cose. Diffatti quei medesimi numeri, per i quali avviene che il concento delle voci apparisca gratissimo agli orecchi degli uomini, sono quelli stessi che empiono anche e gli occhi, e l’animo di piacere maraviglioso. Caveremo adunque tutta la regola del finimento dai musici, a cui perfettissimamente sono noti questi tali numeri; e da quelle cose inoltre, nelle quali la natura dimostri di se alcuna cosa degna ed onorata. [p. 450 dell'edizione facsimile in .pdf che si scarica qui] Kepler combined the intervals into two kinds of musical scales. One had a major third and sixth in it and was the durus scale, close to what we call the major scale. (The major scale beginning on C, for example, includes the intervals C to E and C to A.) The other, with a minor third and sixth, was called the mollis scale, close to what we call the minor. (The minor scale beginning on C, for example, includes the intervals C to E flat and C to A flat.) Likewise, chords based on major thirds and sixths were durus; chords based on major thirds and sixths were mollis. [In German, dur in music still means "major"; moll is "minor": nota a piè di pagina dell'autrice] It requires no musical training to hear the difference between the two scales or chords and experience the emotional effect of this difference: the durus (major) is happy and the mollis (minor) sad. [pp. 268-269. L'esposizione di Kitty Ferguson lascia con l'impressione che sia stato Keplero a introdurre la terminologia durus/mollis, ma a me non risulta così; mi propongo di approfondire] As Kepler calculated it, two-note harmonies of this sort occur almost every day, and Mercury, Earth, and Mars even sing three-part harmony fairly often. Venus, with so little eccentricity to its orbit, hardly varies its pitch at all, making it a sort of Johnny One-Note in the choir. If there is to be harmony with Venus, it must be when another planet slides into harmony with her, not the other way around. Four-note harmonies occur either because Mercury, Earth, and Mars are in adjustment with Venus’ monotone, or because they have waited long enough for the slow-changing bass voice of Jupiter of Saturn to ease into the right note. “Harmonies of four planets, ” wrote Kepler, “begin to spread out among the centuries; those of five planets, among myriad of years.” As for the harmony among all six planets – that grand and greatest “universal harmony” – the chord would be huge, spanning more than seven octaves. (You could not play it on most modern pianos. You would need an organ.) Kepler thought it might be possible for it to occur in the heavens only once in the entire history of the universe. Perhaps one might determine the moment of creation by calculating the past moment when all six planets joined in harmony. Kepler thought about the words of Job to Job: “Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundation … when the morning stars sang together?” [p. 272. L'influenza di questo pensiero kepleriano – e pitagorico – conserva importanza, se non nelle scienze, almeno nella letteratura e delle arti: è uno dei temi sotterranei di Anathem di Neil Stephenson, e naturalmente del progetto Clock of the Long Now di Danny Hillis e della musica che ha ispirato a Brian Eno, January 07003: Bell Studies for the Clock of the Long Now] The Catholic church, for centuries the guardian and bastion of learning, had turned foolish to the point of malign senility and condemned herself and Italy – the ancient home of Pythagoras – to what was virtually a new scientific dark age. The center of scientific endeavor and achievement moved, irretrievably, to northern Europe and England. [p. 278] Masons, illuminists, and intellectual revolutionaries associated Pythagoras with prime numbers, though there had been no suggestion in antiquity of such a link. Great significance was attached to what were believed to have been the central prime numbers of Pythagorean mysticism: 1, 3, 5, and 7. […] In a moment of leftist paranoia about a possible Jesuit plot for a secret takeover of Masonry, there was a suggestion that 17 was the number needed to understand the Jesuit plan. A rightist pamphleteer turned that idea around and proceeded, ingeniously, to show how all of revolutionary history derived from the number 17. [p. 289]

  5. 4 out of 5

    Marcel Côté

    At times towards the end it felt like a cut-and-paste job from a Google search, and there were long stretches where she seemed to be regurgitating secondary sources more than she let on — but there is no question that this is an accessible and readable layman's version both of who Pythagoras really was and what his discoveries were really about, and how they have affected Western music and science, particularly astronomy, from the classical era down to our time. The downside is that since what w At times towards the end it felt like a cut-and-paste job from a Google search, and there were long stretches where she seemed to be regurgitating secondary sources more than she let on — but there is no question that this is an accessible and readable layman's version both of who Pythagoras really was and what his discoveries were really about, and how they have affected Western music and science, particularly astronomy, from the classical era down to our time. The downside is that since what we actually know about Pythagoras is woefully slim and would not fill out a marketable book-length manuscript, there is quite a lot of padding here. There is also almost no information about the occult use or misuse of "Pythagorean" concepts in the Islamic and Christian Middle Ages (alchemy, astrology, numerology and the like). But if you are interested particularly in the original Pythagorean ideas of Classical Greece and/or their effect on the Copernican-Keplerian-Galilean revolution that issued in the modern scientific era, this is a good place to start and you can always use the footnote references to find sources with more original research and depth.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Kurtz

    Very dry, but highly informative. My music history textbook in college just brushed through ancient music and greek influence. This book gives a stronger account of music and meaning in the ancient world. It also traces the evolution and influence of Pythagorian thought from 500 BC to the present. The title is misleading as it really only focuses on music about 25% of the time. One of the most fascinating topics covered was music of the spheres which discusses how many philosophers believed that Very dry, but highly informative. My music history textbook in college just brushed through ancient music and greek influence. This book gives a stronger account of music and meaning in the ancient world. It also traces the evolution and influence of Pythagorian thought from 500 BC to the present. The title is misleading as it really only focuses on music about 25% of the time. One of the most fascinating topics covered was music of the spheres which discusses how many philosophers believed that the planets, moon, and stars make music through their movement.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Kasowski

    I enjoyed learning about Pythagoras’ early life on Samos and later In Italy but there is only so much we know for sure about the man and so most of this book is about how Aristotle, Kepler and many others later in history thought about him (whether accurately or not) which just wasn’t all that engaging to me as so much of it was speculation.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dan Clore

    Great, readable summary of the various conceptions of the life of Pythagoras, his ideas, generally "Pythagorean" ideas, etc., and their influence through the centuries on Plato (Pythagoreanism and Platonism, or neo-Pythagoreanism and neo-Platonism, could practically be considered identical in much of the philosophical tradition), Aristotle, Apollonius of Tyana, early Church Fathers and Islamic scholars, on to Pico della Mirandola, the architect Andrea Palladio, astronomers Copernicus, Brahe, Kep Great, readable summary of the various conceptions of the life of Pythagoras, his ideas, generally "Pythagorean" ideas, etc., and their influence through the centuries on Plato (Pythagoreanism and Platonism, or neo-Pythagoreanism and neo-Platonism, could practically be considered identical in much of the philosophical tradition), Aristotle, Apollonius of Tyana, early Church Fathers and Islamic scholars, on to Pico della Mirandola, the architect Andrea Palladio, astronomers Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, to Illuminists and revolutionaries such as Adam Weishaupt, founder of the infamous Bavarian Illuminati, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine, to 20th-century philosophers Russell and Koestler. I would have also like to see material on Pythagoreanism in Theosophy, Thelema, etc., but that would take another book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

    This is an interesting book about ancient culture, and I enjoy reading about connections amidst math, art, science, and music. Obviously there is much supposition about where specific knowledge actually originated, so there are many theories offered. I wish we knew a little more about the cult of the Pythagoreans. That was new to me.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    This book leaves me with very mixed emotions on how I feel about it. The writing itself is adequate, though not explicitly entertaining; the tone is often a bit monotonous, but never debilitatingly slow. All in all, I think this book gathers the majority of its merit from pure subject matter, and even that can occasionally be lacking - I was surprised to find that rather than focusing on the person of Pythagoras, the narrative centers around his image prevailing for the last two and a half mille This book leaves me with very mixed emotions on how I feel about it. The writing itself is adequate, though not explicitly entertaining; the tone is often a bit monotonous, but never debilitatingly slow. All in all, I think this book gathers the majority of its merit from pure subject matter, and even that can occasionally be lacking - I was surprised to find that rather than focusing on the person of Pythagoras, the narrative centers around his image prevailing for the last two and a half millenia. But what is presented is still stimulating in a very academic sense - one ca grasp a better idea of history's timeline and gain some insight into not just a single figure, but a multitude of scholastics contributing to modern day science and from where they gather information. Most fascinating is Ferguson's tracking of the idealic 'music of the spheres', which Pythagoras can be truly credited as the catalyst for. In summation, a surprisingly good read, though flowing much more like a textbook overview rather than a memoir.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Devero

    Il volume consta di tre parti: la prima è dedicata a Pitagora, e alla sua epoca, il VI sec. a.C. e riassume quasi tutto quello che sappiamo effettivamente di lui e della scuola che fondò. La seconda parte analizza i pitagorici e l'interpretazione che del pensiero Pitagorico ne dettero i grandi pensatori ed eruditi dell'antichità, primi tra tutti Platone ed Aristotele. Nella terza parte si segue l'evolversi delle interpretazioni del pensiero pitagorico dal medioevo al XXI secolo, con le sue influe Il volume consta di tre parti: la prima è dedicata a Pitagora, e alla sua epoca, il VI sec. a.C. e riassume quasi tutto quello che sappiamo effettivamente di lui e della scuola che fondò. La seconda parte analizza i pitagorici e l'interpretazione che del pensiero Pitagorico ne dettero i grandi pensatori ed eruditi dell'antichità, primi tra tutti Platone ed Aristotele. Nella terza parte si segue l'evolversi delle interpretazioni del pensiero pitagorico dal medioevo al XXI secolo, con le sue influenze sui grandi della scienza e l'importanza che ha per le basi del pensiero scientifico. Ottima narrazione, è praticamente la summa di tutto ciò che è noto oggi di Pitagora e della sua influenza su tutti noi, che va molto oltre al teorema che porta il suo nome.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    This book did an admirable job of sketching out the influence of Pythagorian though throught the centuries. It accomplished that tasks, but it but the writing dragged in places. I read a similar book called The Swerve recently and it seemed to to have a fresher, easily read accounts. Still, The Music of Pythagorus was covering a lot of ground. It isn't a huge book but still managed to convey a good overview of a complex subject that unfolds over a long span of time. Well worth pushing through the This book did an admirable job of sketching out the influence of Pythagorian though throught the centuries. It accomplished that tasks, but it but the writing dragged in places. I read a similar book called The Swerve recently and it seemed to to have a fresher, easily read accounts. Still, The Music of Pythagorus was covering a lot of ground. It isn't a huge book but still managed to convey a good overview of a complex subject that unfolds over a long span of time. Well worth pushing through the parts where it may drag a bit.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Libyrinths

    Readable and interesting look at what's known about Pythagoras, his life and his teachings. Ferguson then follows up with the influence of Pythagorean ideas as well as the influence of those ideas attributed to him which weren't his, on Western thinking up to the present time. Not a lot of math, and what's there can pretty well be skimmed over if that's your wont, without missing the point of the book. Well done and enjoyable.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    The set up for the book is incredibly interesting...just remains to be seen if I can understand the math. The math was not as much of a hinderance as I thought it would be. Although I found myself re-reading big chunks to try to grasp, well, the point. This book reminded me of Hawking's Brief History of Time. Glad I read it, but it's definitely challenging.

  15. 4 out of 5

    loafingcactus

    Made me want to live my life over again as a mathematician! My response to where the book fits into my thinking at the time I was reading it here: http://loafingcactus.typepad.com/juic... Made me want to live my life over again as a mathematician! My response to where the book fits into my thinking at the time I was reading it here: http://loafingcactus.typepad.com/juic...

  16. 4 out of 5

    James

    This thorough account of Pythagoras is very interesting: her references to the early sources answered my questions. (However, I was unhappy with the poor formatting of this eBook.)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Cec

  18. 4 out of 5

    Giorgia

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  20. 5 out of 5

    Aggelos Theodorakis

  21. 4 out of 5

    John Estes

  22. 4 out of 5

    Christy

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dean

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cecilia Conte

  25. 5 out of 5

    Carms Bombita

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jsb

  27. 4 out of 5

    Vierblij

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bill

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dana Jalobeanu

  30. 5 out of 5

    Adam

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