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A Mathematician Reads The Newspaper

3.57  ·  Rating Details  ·  617 Ratings  ·  61 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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(showing 1-30 of 1,609)
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Feb 26, 2011 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
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
Jan 10, 2012 Fee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 18, 2013 JP rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 11, 2010 Justin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 03, 2015 Zan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
51 percent of the vote results in 100 percent of the power

so, first off: paulos is not reading a specific newspaper or debunking specific articles. it's more like he's reading the general theory of newspapers, or is recalling a lifetime of said readership, and then tying those hazy memories and basic journalistic practices to some math concepts he's got right there in front of him.

in other words, the math is all very present. but if u want explicitly named errors in recent stories, ur gonna h
Jun 11, 2014 E rated it it was ok
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
Dec 28, 2014 Julia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 did not like it
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.
Jan 21, 2016 Crowey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A useful little book, though a bit dated (its primarily a bundling of a bunch of newspaper articles he's written in the past - and past it is, all (or most), before 2000 I think. And I'm so mathematically illiterate the maths examples he gave were often over my head - but you don't actually need the maths to have at least a sense of what he's getting at, and generally they were points well made. I'll need to re-read it a few times though to really get a useful/functional understanding of many of ...more
Sep 25, 2014 Serkelion rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aaron Wong
Feb 17, 2015 Aaron Wong rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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.
Aug 15, 2015 Art rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun. How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, a new book, reminds me at first glance of A Mathematician Reads The Newspaper, which I enjoyed.
Jan 20, 2016 Kathleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I nibbled my way through this thoughtful collection of articles by a mathematician. Each chapter is a short contemplation of some aspect of news that one would find in the newspaper, and the author does not shy away from any subject. His insightful remarks based on mathematics will make you think twice about the rationality of anything you read from any section of the newspaper. Great food for thought!
Jim Razinha
Aug 04, 2011 Jim Razinha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 13, 2008 Roberto Palet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: periodismo
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
Mar 26, 2010 Alex rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: math-and-society
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 liked it  ·  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."
Jul 11, 2015 Harvey rated it really liked it
- Paulos is Professor Of Mathematics at Temple University, and a regular columnest for The Economist Magazine
- "...every section of a typical 'big city' newspaper is dissected from a mathematicians's perspective
- politics, crime, environmental stories, as well as arts & leisure, celebrity, and sports...even the book review section and obituaries
- a "user-friendly, and quirkily insightful approach"
- "demonstrates how mathematical naivete can put readers at a distinct disadvantage
- you can cer
May 27, 2015 Robyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
A reasonable overview, although fairly shallow (but perhaps it had to be, for s lay audience).
Abner Huertas
Mar 13, 2014 Abner Huertas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
¿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.
Darko Doko
Started so interesting but then faded quickly into bla bla..Dissapointed
Dani Ollé
Many interesting topics but only too shortly covered
Jun 09, 2014 Marty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent. Somewhat dated of course. Some of these essays should be included in textbooks for English composition courses.
Jun 19, 2013 Becky rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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