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An Unexpected Pair of Words: African Fractals

The term "fractals" has gained common status in mathematics discussion, often inappropriately used to denote anything that repeats. Thus, it is important we contantly try to gain a better understanding as to what a fractal is...but even moreso, why are they important.

Ron Eglash's book African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design is a good start. Consider this note from the book jacket: "Drawing on interviews with African designers, artists, and scientists, Ron Eglash investigates fractals in African architecture, traditional hairstyling, textiles, sculpture, painting, carving, metalwork, religion, games, practical craft, quantitative techniques, and symbolic systems. He also examines the political and social implications of the existence of African fractal geometry..."

Wow...and the book does exactly that! Starting from a basic introduction to fractal geometry, Eglash moves quickly to cross-cultural comparisons and implications. A special chapter focuses on African fractal mathematics via geometric algorithms, scaling, number systems, recursion, infinity, and complexity.

To complement your use of the book, you might want to visit Ron Eglash's web site on African fractals. In addition to more information and reviews relative to the book, you also can find:

  • Interactive software that simulates African designs, allowing you to both create your own patterns and learn more about fractal mathematics at the same time
  • An extensive list of references on African fractals
  • Fractals in African development, which includes both articles and web site links
Overall, the book is interesting but unusual, being both introductory and comprehensive. In turn, the book is worth getting--either to just read on the professional level or to use with students in your mathematics classroom.