### 1.17 What Is Linear Algebra?

The above preliminary considerations form the necessary scaffolding upon which linear algebra is
built. Linear algebra is the study of a certain algebraic structure called a vector space described in
a special case in Theorem 1.14.2 and in more generality below along with special functions
known as linear transformations. These linear transformations preserve certain algebraic
properties.

A good argument could be made that linear algebra is the most useful subject in
all of mathematics and that it exceeds even courses like calculus in its significance. It
is used extensively in applied mathematics and engineering. Continuum mechanics,
for example, makes use of topics from linear algebra in defining things like the strain
and in determining appropriate constitutive laws. It is fundamental in the study of
statistics. For example, principal component analysis is really based on the singular value
decomposition discussed in this book. It is also fundamental in pure mathematics areas like
number theory, functional analysis, geometric measure theory, and differential geometry.
Even calculus cannot be correctly understood without it. For example, the derivative
of a function of many variables is an example of a linear transformation, and this is
the way it must be understood as soon as you consider functions of more than one
variable.