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A Mathematician Reads The Newspaper

3.53 of 5 stars 3.53  ·  rating details  ·  522 ratings  ·  51 reviews
John Allen Paulos is a master at shedding mathematical lights on our everyday world:What exactly did Lani Guinier say about quotas?What is the probability of identifying a murderer through DNA testing?Which are the real risks to our health and which the phony ones?Employing the same fun-filled, user-friendly, and quirkily insightful approach that put Innumeracy on best-sel ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published April 6th 1995 by Basic Books
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A biochemist couldn't quite make it through this book, but close enough...The kind of book that eats like a banana, 3/4 is really the perfect amount, then you get full of it.
This book was written in 1996 and there were 5.8 billion people in the world. It is 2012 and now there are 7.8 billion people in the world. This book was cool, because the author went through all the sections of the newspaper starting with the politics which he claims does not really tell you shit about truth upon headlines to get you to buy the paper ending his explanations with sports and entertainment. People get fixated on words like Korupt, strikes, embezzlement, murder. When you divide the ...more
I really enjoyed this work. The author proves to the reader that math is not about numbers but about thinking and logic. Covering a wide range of general examples, he brings home the concepts of probability, game theory (voting, poltical territory), chaos (economic forecasting, epidemics, markets), non-linearity, logic, and the complexity horizon. He also brings out the finer points regarding interpretation and use of analytical tools: precision (re: recipes), anchoring, checking for reasonabili ...more
This book, as I probably should have realized, is largely comprised of Paulos's vague musings. When he spends more than 2-3 pages on a topic, it gets insightful, but he does that far too seldom. There are plenty of good nuggets here, but the lazy format just doesn't hold up (too many sections of "Hey, here's an idea that I find moderately interesting, but I'm not going to bother digging into it."

I appreciate why it isn't especially math-y, but that limits some of his arguments. Had he dropped a
I enjoyed this book quite a bit, though not as much as I enjoyed Paulos' earlier Innumeracy. He turns phrases beautifully and explains not-so-obvious mathematical phenomena very clearly. (For example, if you go up against a tennis player with whom you win 40 percent of your points, your chances of winning a match are only a paltry .05 percent - yes, one-twentieth of one percent. Sound crazy? The proof is on page 176 of the paperback edition.) My only complaint is that some of Paulos' ideas just ...more
Charles Eliot
When my children were young we would watch nature programs on the television together, and I would teach then to ask "How do they know that?" I taught them to expect that the answer would often be a vivid example of how much science can discover or discern or deduce, even from the scantest of clues and via the most devious paths. I also taught them to expect that sometimes the answer would be "They don't know", or "They're guessing", or even "That's what they want you to think, but it isn't actu ...more
I'm a bit chary of criticizing a guy who wrote a book as useful as Innumeracy - Mathematical Illiteracy Ands Its Consequences. Perhaps the polite thing would be to say, just read his other book instead. Paulos attempts to discuss how a grasp of maths will allow you to understand better the world around you, such as it is presented in the newspaper. In reality, this seems to be merely an attempt to capitalize on the success of that earlier work. Is is 75 pages of meat with 125 pages of filler. I' ...more
Applies basic mathematics to provide insights into the biases and misleading material in newspapers. Each chapter provides a bite-sized bit of knowledge about statistics and cognitive biases, though toward the end the information became repetitive. Especially liked the sections about gerrymandering, and tax rates. Also refreshing to see explanation of common cognitive biases.

Overall, a good reminder that the news is, for the most part, first about entertainment, and then about disseminating info
Jan 19, 2014 Sameer rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: math
This is a series of condescending nitpicks about selectively picked newspaper articles that were probably written by someone who flunked high school math anyway. The author's "insights" are mostly either superficial or trivial.
Molto interessante. Finalmente un libro che parla di Matematica, nel vero senso della parola, e non di Aritmetica (in troppi confondono e generalizzano le due discipline).

Alcune parti del libro sono un po' noiose, vuoi perché troppo discorsive o perché riferite al contesto degli USA. Ma alcuni esempi sono molto azzeccati e alcuni concetti davvero illuminanti. Un ottimo modo di spiegare perché dobbiamo diffidare dei giornali e leggerli con molta, moltissima attenzione. L'informazione rischia a vo
Justin Tapp
The book is about 200 pages but has over 50 chapters. So, each chapter reads sort of like a blog entry. It was published in 1994, before blogs, so it made him more money than simply blogging his thoughts now would. Each chapter are his thoughts after reading particular articles in the newspaper and introduce various mathematical theories and statistical concepts that would add some much-needed info to the articles.
The author loves the newspaper but is also critical of journalists and publishers.
Jim Razinha
Paulos is a witty mathematician and makes excellent points in his analyses of newspapers focusing on the numbers, statistics, ignorance and misrepresentations. Arranged as newspaper content, with politics and current topics first, followed by local news, lifestyles, science, and sports, he writes short "articles" with composite made up headlines to draw you in; not any different than any newspaper. Published in 1995, the topics and references are dated, but the message is not.

I would be curious
Roberto Palet
Para el paroxístico estilo periodístico de nuestro país, la mayor enseñanza de este libro es la denuncia que hace de esa tan fructífera como nefasta alianza entre periodistas y abogados –sobre todo aquellos que representan a personas que afirman haber sufrido perjuicios por culpa de productos, servicios o políticas defectuosas.Porque si bien seguramente buena parte de esas denuncias son justificadas, lo que Allen critica, y sustenta en lógica matemática, es esa moraleja naif con que todos los di ...more
A good book. Paulos is funny and offers a treasure trove of examples from the contemporary news (the mid-90s when he was writing) that have "a legitimate mathematical component" as he puts it. This book can be viewed as a follow up to his earlier book "Innumeracy" that furthers his case that the publics inability to grapple basic mathematical arguments has substantial social consequences.

My only gripe is that, at times, he makes the typical mathematician's error of using a heavily oversimplified
Brian Sison
I loved Innumeracy and liked Beyond Numeracy, so I had high hopes for this book.

It was OK, but not spectacular. There was too much wordiness and not enough math. I was hoping for a more detailed analysis with various examples of how math, statistics, graphs, etc are used to mislead or misinform newspaper readers. Instead, this is a very cursory touch on various slightly math-related political and economic concerns.

May 11, 2014 Kate rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Unmil
Recommended to Kate by: LH
"You can only predict things after they've happened."

"Things to stay the same until change."

"No More Slogans."

"What remains if I subtract my arm's going up from my raising it?"

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."
Abner Huertas
¿Alguna vez te has detenido a pensar que tan cierto es todo lo que se publica en un periódico?

En este libro John Paulos nos reta a pensar en todo aquello que leemos y a evitar las trampas que muchas veces nos tiende nuestra mente. Preguntar es la clave principal para realmente llegar a conocer la verdad.

I love mathematics. I love newspapers. I also love facts, and separating those from fiction, and clarity, and healthy skeptical thinking, and a vigorous dose of humor. This book satisfies all those interests. What's fascinating is that each chapter could be exploded not into just into an entire book, but volumes of books. His brevity though, keeps your interest, although he runs way too short on some very interesting topics (only four pages on baseball? Criminal!). Great fun. I have to read more ...more
Sarah Delacueva
Disappointing. I read a small exerpt from this book in a statistics class once and found it enjoyable. I thought it would be a fun and accessible look at how statistics are misused in the media. Unfortunately, the description fun and accessible does not apply to the book on the whole. Many sections of involved math well beyond my level of undestanding and others just seemed poorly organized to the point that I had no idea what point the author was making at any given time. Too bad.
Dani Ollé
Many interesting topics but only too shortly covered
Excellent. Somewhat dated of course. Some of these essays should be included in textbooks for English composition courses.
I was looking at this book for examples of critical thinking skills used reading the newspaper (statistical analysis, correlation vs. causation, recognizing fallacies in logic) and Paulos provided them. It wasn't as riveting as I was hoping but it is a bit dated (1995). That being said, many of his points about thinking and reasoning were still relevant. I would love Paulos to update this. May have to follow him on Twitter.
2/3 stars, most of the stories are interesting. Since I almost majored in mathematics I heard some of the math behind the stories before. Since I did learn a few things from the book I bump up the rating to a solid 3 stars. The writing is that of a mathematician that is for sure.

Since reading some of John Allen Paulos recent books and working backwards is interesting to see how much more well written his books are.
Vicki Cline
The author of Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences finds references to numbers, math and statistics in most parts of the newspaper and finds many instances where they are misused or misunderstood. He also offers ways for writers to get it right.
Excellent book. I always suspected that the numbers and statistics freely used even in best news papers and their analysis and conclusions drawn were factually incorrect. The book proved that my suspicion was correct. The relative importance and implications of news items in every news paper are grossly erroneous. Read the book and you will find out how.
I hoped this book would be more mathematically rigorous. I was not expecting a both *for* mathematicians, but there was very little actual math in this book. It touched on some important and interesting ideas, but never got too deep. I would have liked a more in-depth discussion of some of the topics.

Not bad, but not for me.
This book got a little dry after reading through page after page of the similarly themed material. Ultimately, I think I was only 80% finished with the book when I had to bring it back to the library. It was a good read...'just something that's probably best enjoyed in bits and pieces over more of an extended period of time.
The book contains about 50 bite-sized (2-4 pages, mostly) unrelated pieces, upon reading which you will know of enough mathematical nuances that will turn you into a mathematical curmudgeon and take the pleasure out of reading the morning newspaper. A great bathroom reader for the math nerd.
It was good, but definitely not my favorite. Like Innumeracy, it started out great and funny, but slowly got rather boring. I have always been a numbers fan, always will, but this was just not for me. He's definitely funny and knows his information, but it's just not my "thing".
Jeff Kessler
It's an interesting book, but difficult to finish. There are some intriguing stories with statistics and mathematics, but most is very dry. It would be good for a mathematics teacher to use in their classroom, as it could help connect math to many real-world applications.
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