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Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences
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Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,881 Ratings  ·  219 Reviews
Dozens of examples in innumeracy show us how it affects not only personal economics and travel plans, but explains mischosen mates, inappropriate drug-testing, and the allure of psuedo-science.
Hardcover, 0 pages
Published January 1st 1990 by Turtleback Books (first published 1988)
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Mar 29, 2008 Jerzy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: math
Most of the book is a collection of examples commonly seen in other pop math books: how a particular gambling game or con trick lets the house win most of the time; tricky things about Bayes' Theorem and Simpson's Paradox; how raising the price by 40% and then lowering the new price by 40% does not give you back the original price; the difference between statistical correlation and causation; etc.

I hoped the book would be an in-depth look at where innumeracy stems from and how to prevent it. The
Jul 09, 2012 Lisa rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
On page 94, Paulos bemoans the fact that people attribute combination to causation: "...when people reason that if X cures Y, then lack of X must cause Y."

But just a few pages later, on 108, he states: "In short, there is an obvious connection between innumeracy and the poor mathematical education received by so many people. [...] Still, it's not the whole story, since there are many quite numerate people who have had little formal schooling."

For those who are only as bright (or dim) as Paulos
Feb 28, 2015 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Easy book to read that addresses mathematical illiteracy or "Inumeracy." Paulos offers persuasive arguments for increasing math literacy with fun anecdotes & fascinating statistics.
Let's say there was a <1% chance that I would buy an unknown book after stumbling randomly upon it on a bargain shelf (something I haven't done in almost a decade after perusing dozens of such shelves in that time), and then a 30% chance that I would then like that book (giving myself some credit for taste while taking into account the vast quantities of extant crap). Those are two dependent scenarios, meaning I'd have to multiply them to get the likelihood that I ever might have liked this b ...more
Oct 04, 2014 Jonathan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
An easy little read about mathematical illiteracy.

The author, it is eventually revealed, was a mathematical prodigy as a child, and still takes immense pleasure in doing things like deftly computing the volume of all the blood in the world in terms of how deep it would fill Central Park, or how fast human hair grows in miles per hour. He seems genuinely surprised that there might be people for whom these questions are not interesting.

He also has some ideas for improving the state of mathematica
Sep 23, 2015 J.M. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: You
Quick, essential reading.

While it hasn't completely killed my interest in coincidences, it tried valiantly to do so. The author's anger at the popularity of pseudosciences (astrology, mediums, fortune-telling, etc.) comes across pretty clearly, and it's hard not to agree with him. In fact... it's impossible to disagree with him in certain sections, since he's using cold, hard mathematics. (He'd hate that I used the adjective 'cold,' there...)

I don't have much more to say beyond the fact that thi
Never judge a book by its cover or, in this case, by its title. The author purports to explain numerical illiteracy ("innumeracy") and the consequences of it. However, he skates from there to explaining formal logic, probability theory, estimations, critiques of psuedo-science, and then to the reasons why so many people just don't like math. Although his points are valid, and at times slyly humorous, the tone is at times condescending and and self-pitying. I wanted to like this book but the open ...more
Charles Eliot
In "Innumeracy", John Allen Paulos argues that the level of mathematical illiteracy in the United States is shocking and unacceptable, that innumeracy has real and pernicious negative effects, and that it is promoted by poor teaching.

It's a pity: I share Paulos's love for mathematics, and I agree with the message of "Innumeracy", but I find his approach glib and pompous. At one point he says he finds it hard to write at length, preferring brevity and concision. That's all well and good, but it c
Innumeracy is a great book for the era of Ebola panic (even if it is quite dated). Paulos expounds on mathematical concepts as they relate to everyday life - the true nature of particular risks, gambling chances, and understanding extremely large and small numbers. There are a lot of mathematical puzzles (always fun) and real-world examples of the (mis)application of seemingly abstract concepts. There's also some overlap with Thinking, Fast and Slow regarding cognitive blocks to thinking mathema ...more
Manolo Almagro
El libro es un compendio de hechos que ya aparecen en otras obras del estilo (el clásico de "has respirado el mismo aire que un personaje histórico", y numerosos juegos de azar explicados). No está mal para leer si no se tiene mucho que hacer, nada más.

Durante todo el libro persiste la sensación de que el autor no pretende llegar a ningún punto en especial. La exposición es clara, eso sí; pero el hecho de que el libro sea tan generalista y no se profundice en ningún tema, teniendo todo el rato l
Ken Ransom
Reading Innumeracy is probably most fun for people who already understand 95% of the math Paulos uses. Plus a lot of the examples aren't from current events despite what the back cover says.

I bet a lot of his stated intended audience--innumerates--aren't making it past the first chapter, let alone getting all the way to the end. And the book is only 135 pages.

But if the reader will stick with it, or maybe skip over sections not understood, it's worth the time spent reading. Hey, it's only 135 p
Nicholas Taddeo
Feb 01, 2016 Nicholas Taddeo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read a few books similar to this one and this has been my favorite so far. It doesn't get too deep into complex mathematics and does a good job of explaining the fallacies people fall for when they can't effectively deal with numbers. For some reason, adults are completely comfortable telling peers that they can't think mathematically but would never admit illiteracy. A culture that doesn't hold a fluency with numbers and math in high regard is one that is likely to be fooled or taken advan ...more
Chris Dudding
Mar 11, 2014 Chris Dudding rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This was my second or third time through this small yet immensely powerful book. This should be required reading for just about anyone, high-school and college on up. It's not about math so much as it is about how we (often erroneously) think about numbers in our everyday lives. If everyone read and absorbed this material, much sensational media about perceived dangers (from sharks, vaccines, GMOs, and so forth) would be met by a much more skeptical audience, one primed to ask substantive questi ...more
I didn't learn anything new about mathematics, but I did learn some things about how to convey mathematics to the public. In some ways he does this well; in some ways he does it quite badly. I found it particularly grating how often he made snide references to Ronald Reagan; I hate Reagan as much as the next man, but are you actively TRYING to systematically alienate conservatives? It definitely is fun for someone who loves math; it's full of lots of fun little Fermi estimations, some facts that ...more
Mohamad Bourji
Jun 13, 2015 Mohamad Bourji rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book could easily be a 500 page book. Written by a mathematician, it's up to the point.

It's incredible how much we rely on mathematics in our daily lives yet a lot of us have little sense of it. If you want to get a better understanding of the world you can't afford ignoring mathematics, regardless what your occupation is. Reading this book will not make you numerate, but it will likely convince you why it's important to be one.

We talk probability everyday. I can hardly watch a game of ba
Jan 15, 2016 Christian rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Un libro sin el rigor de un buen matemático.
Paulos se saca de la manga teoremas "fundamentales" de la lógica (Según él, el que cuando menos uno de los cinco sentidos deban participar en la percepción es un fundamento de lógica) Establece explicaciones probabilísticas basado en cosas sumamente improbables (que una bocanada de aire se distribuya uniformemente en la atmósfera) y niega falacias basándose en otras falacias (En su libro, por alguna razon, decidio que los astrólogos dicen que la influ
William Schram
The author writes of his concern for the innumerate society in which we live. People that can't balance a checkbook and don't find a problem with that are rather scary, since they have to make decisions that sometimes require mathematical proficiency.

All the while he cites numerous examples and ideas in probability and other things that people believe for stupid misinformed reasons. Mostly astrology and numerology and other things that make no sense.

All in all this book is shorter than I thought
Feb 07, 2016 Rebeca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Como introduce el libro, muchas personas dicen "no tengo ni idea de matemáticas" sin sonrojarse porque lo consideran aceptable como algo normal, y sin embargo si alguien admitiera "no tengo ni idea de lengua española" quedaría bastante peor. Y este libro se dedica a ilustrar las manifestaciones de que el común de los mortales tiene poca idea acerca de proporciones, estadísticas, porcentajes y demás conceptos matemáticos básicos. También desmonta las supersticiones e ideas pseudocientíficas. Todo ...more
Craig Werner
Giving this three stars instead of four because I'd recommend Paulos's A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper over it. Both books cover essentially the same themes: the prevalance of fairly basic mathematical errors in the way many people think about the world; the mystifications that scare people away from numeracy; the dangers of superstition....My preference for Mathematician is two-fold. First, there are more specific suggestions on how to defend yourself in real-life situations; second, the ma ...more
Faris Naufal Rahman
An easy read about illiteracy in numbers and maths. Considering the subtitle "Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences", the book covers a lot of examples on the illiteracy but not so much on the consequences. The examples are there, I know it's funny, dumb and ignorant but then what?
Paulos wrote the book from his own anxiety and anger towards this so called "innumerates", it doesn't matter really if he just want to convey that. But serving the book to a wider audience, I personally feel th
May 11, 2009 Joel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book speaks for itself. I mean, people should understand mathematics beyond, like, knowing how many shoes they need for how many feet they have.
Daniel Jordan
It's a fun read, and I think it's meant to be just that. the author states that the book is something like a really long essay or pamphlet and it feels that way. It's not meant to be treated as a research paper or a treatise, just a rant. And so I did enjoy it, it had some interesting points like the part about math anxiety (which I will read about some more) and education, however, as some other reviews stated, it would've benefitted a lot from more examples of the consequences, real-life examp ...more
Oct 18, 2009 Robert rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall, Innumeracy is a very good book addressing a very important topic, mathematical illiteracy and its consequences. As a professional statistician, I'm not the ideal person to review this book. I want to nitpick at how Paulos expresses certain statistical concepts and challenge nuances in his logic in other sections. I want to complain about how little math and how few numbers the book contains. But if I step back and acknowledge the book was not written for me, I can see that Innumeracy co ...more
jiawei Ong
Feb 24, 2013 jiawei Ong rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Until I came in contact with this book, I never knew I could be termed as a “numerate.” Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy And Its Consequences, written by John Allen Paulos, had not only taught me a new vocabulary word but had also shown me an unappealing truth, innumeracy. Innumeracy, “the inability to deal comfortably with the fundamental notions of number and chance,” was the overlooked issue John Allen Paulos presented to me. Personally, I was rejoiced to be able to understand myself bett ...more
Michael Quinn
Jun 21, 2013 Michael Quinn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Innumeracy is a strong general overview of basic mathematical principals for any person interested in the subject. It would also be nice reading for any math student, barring the section on pedagogy, which isn't so relevant.

The book's biggest strength is it's perspective. By writing from the position of someone dismayed by a the public's lack of mathematical knowledge, Paulos is able to engage the reader in a polemic against ignorance. The humor gives the reader a sense of "insider baseball," s
Apr 05, 2010 Jack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The same people who cringe when words such as `imply' and `infer' are confused react without a trace of embarrassment to even the most egregious numerical solecisms." (p. 3)

"Confronted with these large numbers and with the correspondingly small probabilities associated with them, the innumerate inevitably respond with the non sequitor, `Yes, but what if you're that one,' and then nod knowingly, as if they've demolished your argument [about still consequential differences in probability:] with t
Yang Ming Wen
"Why do even well-educated people understand so little about mathematics?", exclaimed the author in the book's introduction. But after some pounding on the question, one could realize that such claim can hardly be valid by definition. After all, how can someone be regarded as "well-educated" if he has not be learned some of the fundamental mathematical principles presented in the book? Thus the question could be reiterated as:

"Why do even well-educated people who understand mathematics, demonstr
Jan 11, 2013 Suha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting, entertaining, as well as informative book. I don't generally read books about mathematics and the like, but the title of the book was an instant attention-grabber.
There's nothing quite like reading a book for which you are the target audience, because I am indeed, innumerate. As predicted by the author, I'm the kind of person who, when presented with an enamoring mathematical technique, instantly wonders whether or not this would be necessary to know for the quiz.
To me, and man
Sep 01, 2010 Parksy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction

Very easy read on how the general public just doesn't get numbers and math.
This is the book that made "innumeracy" a household word, at least in some households. Paulos admits that "at least part of the motivation for any book is anger, and this book is no exception. I'm distressed by a society which depends so completely on mathematics and science and yet seems to indifferent to the innumeracy and scientific illiteracy of so many of its citizens."

But that is not all that drives him
Jun 09, 2012 Vickie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of the examples are a little out of date (Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, for instance...) but I'm finding it very well written and accessible. I would consider myself numerically literate (numerate) but I have not been employing my math knowledge on a daily or professional basis. As such, I don't agree that conceptualizing scientific notation is easier than a number written verbally or in longhand (say, 1,000,000,000,000 versus 1 trillion versus 1.0 x 10^12) but I do believe it's usef ...more
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