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Almost Pi-Day....Two Great Resources

Whenever I want to know something about number pi, the first book I usually turn to is Petr Beckmann's A History of PI [St. Martin's Press], first published in 1971. His opening statement in the "Preface" is great: "The history of pi is a quaint little mirror of the history of man." Thus, as teachers, we have a great opportunity to show students this "mirror" through pi and its fascinating history.

A second great text-based resource is Lennart Berggren, Jonathan Borwein, and Peter Borwein' is the Pi: A Source Book [Springer, 1997], which was designed to be a comprehensive encyclopedic reference to pi. And in contrast to Beckmann's opening statement, the Preface for the Berggren/Borwwin Bros text is "The story of pi reflects the most seminal, the most serious, and sometimes the most whimsical aspects of mathematics."

So what can you find in these books? Some examples are:

  • The infamous attempt by the Indiana legislature to fix the value of pi at a value such as 3.2
  • The attempts (old and continued) to do the impossible: square the circle and thereby construct a length of pi
  • Overviews of "digit humters," those many people who attempt to create ingenious methods for determining values of pi to any level of desired accuracy
  • Overviews of the proof that pi is a transcendental number by F. Lindemann in 1882
  • Mnemonics for memorizing decimal places of pi, one of them up to 402 places.
  • Literature and humor related to pi
Both texts are references that should not only be on every teachers shelves, but also be used!