The Mathematics of Life

The Mathematics of Life is a 2011 popular science book by mathematician Ian Stewart, on the increasing role of mathematics in biology.[1]

The Mathematics of Life
Book cover, The Mathematics of Life
First edition cover
AuthorIan Stewart
CountryUnited States
SubjectBiology, biomathematics
PublisherBasic Books
Media typePrint, e-book
Pages368 pp.


Stewart discusses the mathematics behind such topics as population growth, speciation, brain function, chaos theory, game theory, networking, symmetry, and animal coloration, with little recourse to equations.[2] He identifies six revolutions which modernized biology:[3]

  1. The invention of the microscope
  2. A systematic means of classifying species
  3. Evidence of evolution
  4. The expansion of the field of genetics
  5. The discovery of the structure of DNA
  6. The application of new mathematics to biology


Writer Alex Bellos described The Mathematics of Life as "a testament to the versatility of maths and how it is shaping our understanding of the world."[4] Kirkus Reviews called the book "an ingenious overview of biology with emphasis on mathematical ideas—stimulating but requiring careful reading despite the lack of equations."[2] A review in Notices of the American Mathematical Society noted that the book "does an admirable job of unfolding the mathematics undergirding so much of the research being carried out today in the many fields that comprise the subject of biology."[5]

Mathematician and science writer Keith Devlin criticized the book, writing that "readers of the author's many general-audience books on mathematics may be surprised to find themselves at times frustrated by his latest outing, which is marred by overlapping and often repetitious passages."[6]


  1. ^ The Mathematics of Life (Google eBook). Google. 2011-06-07. ISBN 9780465024407. Retrieved September 16, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "The Mathematics of Life by Ian Stewart". Kirkus Reviews. April 5, 2011. Retrieved September 16, 2014.
  3. ^ Parker, Nicole. "The Mathematics of Life". New York Journal of Books. Retrieved September 16, 2014.
  4. ^ Bellos, Alex (April 15, 2011). "Mathematics of Life by Ian Stewart - Review". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  5. ^ Adam, John (December 2011). "Putting the "X" in Biology: A Review of The Mathematics of Life" (PDF). Notices of the American Mathematical Society. 58 (11): 1572–1578. Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  6. ^ Devlin, Keith (June 9, 2011). "New Angles on Biology: Life sciences, meet mathematics: How viruses resemble Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome, and other discoveries". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 4 May 2015.