The Mathematical Vision That Shaped America
University of Chicago Press
Mastery over the vast spaces of the continent has engendered controversy ever since Americans began looking west. In Liberty’s Grid, The Mathematical Vision That Shaped America, Amir Alexander puts readers into the middle of a clash between two incompatible visions of American space. According to one vision, the American continent is empty, nothing but a vast unresisting terrain awaiting its settlers to make their mark. And according to the other, the land is already full to the brim, rich in wonders both natural and human, which settlers would disrupt at their peril.
Each of these visions left deep marks on the continent. Those who believed that America is a blank slate, and ripe for the taking, set out to mark it with an immense mathematical grid that covered both its rural and urban spaces. Those who believed that America’s strength lies in its natural wonders countered the grid at every step, instituting natural-style urban parks at the heart of rectilinear cities, leafy suburbs on their margins, and national parks and preserves throughout the rural grid. The struggle between these two conflicting yet intertwined visions has been going on for two centuries, and has informed not only the physical landscape, but the political one as well.
In his previous two books, Infinitesimal and Proof!, Amir Alexander chronicled the roles that mathematical ideas have played in the creation of the modern world. In Liberty’s Grid, he brings that story to America, and deepens our appreciation of the landscapes that we all know.