The Story of Math Collection

The Story of Math • The Code • The Music of the Primes


The Story of Math Collection:

   The Story of Math

   The Music of the Primes

   The Code

Hosted and Written by Marcus du Sautoy

Edited by Eliot McCaffrey and Susan Brand

Produced by Kim Duke, Karen McGann & Peter Leonard et al

Directed by Karen McGann, Stephen Cooter & Dan Child et al

First Aired on BBC Oct 2008 & July-Aug 2011



Marcus du Sautoy


Production Studio:

Theatrical: BBC Four and BBC Two Television

Video: Athena Learning



Aspect ratio: 1.76~1.79:1

Resolution: 480i

Codec: MPEG-2

Disc Size: DVD-9 x 5

Bit Rate: Moderate (ca. 6 Mbps)


   Story of Math: 232 min.

   Music of the Primes: 79 min.

   The Code: 174 min.

Region: A



English Dolby Digital 2.0



Optional English


Bonus Features

• Phi’s the Limit

• Go Forth and Multiply

• Imagining the Impossible

• Biographies of Great Mathematicians

• 20-page Booklet for The Story of Math

• 20-page Booklet for The Code



DVD Clamshell Case: DVD x 5

Street Date: January 15, 2013


Product Overview (Athena):

Mathematics are the foundation for almost everything we do, from finance to physics, architecture to astronomy. In The Story of Math, author and Oxford professor Marcus du Sautoy and other experts crisscross the globe, bringing the colorful history of numbers to life. Du Sautoy’s enthusiasm, energy, and humor make math accessible and fun. In this 3-disc set, meet the men and women who conceived major mathematical breakthroughs and explored the farthest frontiers of abstract thought, often with tragic results. Learn how their discoveries still drive technology, science, and even philosophy. Using computerized visuals and healthy doses of humor, Du Sautoy makes the most complex concepts accessible and engaging. With contagious enthusiasm and boundless energy, he shows that math isn’t merely about making calculations, but also about finding patterns that expose the hidden relationships in our universe.


Oxford professor and winner of the London Mathematical Society’s Berwick Prize, Marcus du Sautoy contributes regularly to The Times and The Guardian (U.K.), has presented many TV and radio programs, and has authored numerous books, including Symmetry.


The Documentary: 8

The Story of Maths

Episode 1 : The Language of the Universe

After showing how fundamental mathematics is to our lives, Marcus du Sautoy explores the mathematics of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece. In Egypt, he uncovers use of a decimal system based on ten fingers of the hand, while in former Mesopotamia he discovers that the way we tell the time today is based on the Babylonian Base 60 number system. In Greece, he looks at the contributions of some of the giants of mathematics including Plato, Euclid, Archimedes and Pythagoras, who is credited with beginning the transformation of mathematics from a tool for counting into the analytical subject we know today.


Episode 2 : The Genius of the East

When ancient Greece fell into decline, mathematical progress stagnated as Europe entered the Dark Ages, but in the East mathematics reached new heights. Du Sautoy visits China and explores how maths helped build imperial China and was at the heart of such amazing feats of engineering as the Great Wall. In India, he discovers how the symbol for the number zero was invented and Indian mathematicians' understanding of the new concepts of infinity and negative numbers. In the Middle East, he looks at the invention of the new language of algebra and the spread of Eastern knowledge to the West through mathematicians such as Leonardo Fibonacci, creator of the Fibonacci Sequence.


Episode 3 : The Frontiers of Space

By the 17th century, Europe had taken over from the Middle East as the world's powerhouse of mathematical ideas. Great strides had been made in understanding the geometry of objects fixed in time and space. The race was now on to discover the mathematics to describe objects in motion. In this programme, Marcus du Sautoy explores the work of René Descartes and Pierre Fermat, whose famous Last Theorem would puzzle mathematicians for more than 350 years. He also examines Isaac Newton's development of the calculus, and goes in search of Leonard Euler, the father of topology or 'bendy geometry' and Carl Friedrich Gauss, who, at the age of 24, was responsible for inventing a new way of handling equations: modular arithmetic.


Episode 4 : To Infinity and Beyond

Marcus du Sautoy concludes his investigation into the history of mathematics with a look at some of the great unsolved problems that confronted mathematicians in the 20th century. After exploring Georg Cantor's work on infinity and Henri Poincare's work on chaos theory, he looks at how mathematics was itself thrown into chaos by the discoveries of Kurt Godel, who showed that the unknowable is an integral part of maths, and Paul Cohen, who established that there were several different sorts of mathematics in which conflicting answers to the same question were possible. He concludes his journey by considering the great unsolved problems of mathematics today, including the Riemann Hypothesis, a conjecture about the distribution of prime numbers. A million dollar prize and a place in the history books await anyone who can prove Riemann's theorem.


The Code

Episode 1 : Numbers

Marcus du Sautoy reveals a hidden numerical code that underpins all nature. A code that has the power to explain everything, from the numbers and shapes we see all around us to the rules that govern our own lives. In this first episode, Marcus reveals how significant numbers apear throughout the natural world. They're part of a hidden mathematical world that contains the rules that govern everything on our planet and beyond.

Episode 2 : Shapes

Professor du Sautoy uncovers the patterns that explain the shape of the world around us. Starting at the hexagonal columns of Northern Ireland's Giant's Causeway, he discovers the code underpinning the extraordinary order found in nature - from rock formations to honeycomb and from salt crystals to soap bubbles. Marcus also reveals the mysterious code that governs the apparent randomness of mountains, clouds and trees and explores how this not only could be the key to Jackson Pollock's success, but has also helped breathe life into hugely successful movie animations.

Episode 3 : To Infinity and Beyond

Marcus du Sautoy continues his exploration of the hidden numerical code that underpins all nature. This time it's the strange world of what happens next. Professor du Sautoy's odyssey starts with the lunar eclipse - once thought supernatural, now routinely predicted through the power of the code. But more intriguing is what the code can say about our future. Along the path to enlightenment, Marcus overturns the lemming's suicidal reputation, avoids being crushed to death, reveals how to catch a serial killer and discovers that the answer to life the universe and everything isn't 42 after all - it's 1.15.



LensViews: 8

A sly smile appears on my face whenever I hear du Sautoy use the word “maths” instead of the American expression “math.”  In fact, the title card of the series is not The Story of Math as Athena would have it, but The Story of Maths.  Mathematics is one of those words that is its own plural, and du Sautoy means to discuss the various studies of numbers – theoretical and applied – as they evolved over the last five millennia across the globe: each rightly considered as a form of “mathematics” on its own – thus “maths” not “math.”


Without a doubt, if you do not already have a high-school level familiarity with geometry, algebra, trigonometry and calculus, you might find yourself pausing and repeating du Sautoy’s examples with some frequency.  Our guide speaks rapidly and the visual aids often come and go before they can make their point to the uninformed mind.  The subtitles help.  I found that if you stayed with him even if you didn’t quite grasp the concepts you will find that most ideas are revisited in later episodes.  He first mentions Pythagoras’ Theorem as an aside when discussing the ancient Egyptians, but doesn’t explain it until he gets to the Greeks almost an hour later.  When he talks about how the Hindus were able to calculate the relative distance of the sun and moon to the Earth, he says, rather matter of factly, that they knew one of the angles was 1/7 of a degree but doesn’t say how they came to know it.  In short, du Sautoy often skips steps that would lead to a failing grade in an high school geometry class.



Of course, no overview of antiquity can offer extensive and relevant graphics for the modern audience, so the lion’s share of the visuals are more in the nature of a travelogue that has only a passing relationship to our guide’s text at any moment – some less than others.  When he pauses to demonstrate examples, the visuals are better judged, but edited quickly, in keeping with the overall pace of the documentary, forgetting that this is just the moment for teaching rather than adventure.


That said, one can’t help but be drawn into du Sautoy’s passion and enthusiasm.  The resulting video seems aimed at a freshman college class, providing an extensive and eye-opening overview of how our species discovered and made use of how pattern recognition fell into the idea of numbers and how all of this resulted into the technology that supported each historical age from the ancients to the imagined future.



Image: 8

The 1.78:1 transfer, though showing signs of combing when viewed on the computer, is mercifully free of artifacts and enhancements.  The images, shot in many locales and lighting conditions, are naturally colorful and agreeably, often surprisingly, sharp and resolved.


Audio & Music: 6/8

It is entirely possible that Marcus du Sautoy speaks rapidly, though clearly and precisely, and in a pressured upper register – all of which suggests PAL speed-up is at play here.  While I can’t confirm this for absolute certain, listening to him on a TED lecture, it is clear the voice on this DVD does not emanate from the same man.  On the other hand, the music, conspicuously uncredited, sounds agreeable and dynamic. I found the subtitles help steer me along.


Extras: 8

The Music of the Primes tackles math’s biggest unanswered question: the pattern in prime numbers. Included are Biographies of the Great Mathematicians.  Athena also includes a 20-page learning guide for the The Story of Math and another 10-page guide for The Code.  If you feel your math skills may not be up to snuff, these are where I would start, followed by the biographies, found on the first disc.



Recommendation: 8

By the time I got to the bonus feature The Music of the Primes I came to see that mathematicians believe that numbers are naturally occurring phenomenon, like gravity, rather than a construct that we humans have devised to give a name to pattern recognition: Gravity is. Numbers are.  Gravity has effects that can be predicted; numbers help us do that in much the same way as a horse and buggy moves us from one place to another more efficiently than walking.  Without numbers we would have no way to predict anything about such forces – nor, for that matter, much of anything. Yet mathematicians, it seems to me, believe that numbers are axiomatic, whose existence need not be explained.  A sect known as The Brotherhood of Pythagoras, whose first two rules were very likely the same as those of Fight Club, went so far as to believe that numbers were the source of all reality. I’ve never been particularly seduced by numbers (except, of course, when I play the lottery) but have never been able to sort out if I am lacking or others are merely more gifted.  Given my interest regarding human cognitive development and behavior, I found The Story of Math and the companion volume The Code to be rather compelling, even if not as intended.


This month Athena is releasing a comprehensive collection titled, appropriately enough, The Story of Math Collection, which, in addition to the 3-DVD set titled The Story of Math, released in 2010, adds a second 2-disc set two The Code + the shorts: Phi’s the Limit, Go Forth and Multiply and Imagining the Impossible.  List price is $79.95 for the whole shebang.  Recommended.


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

January 20, 2013

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