Her schtick is mostly to use metaphor, comparing math to cooking. You can call for flour in a recipe, rather than wheatA Math book for the "layman."

Her schtick is mostly to use metaphor, comparing math to cooking. You can call for flour in a recipe, rather than wheat that needs to be ground; sort of like you can depend on a theorem, or move back to an axiom. If you're good enough at cooking, you can riff on ingredients. Sometimes changing ingredients makes a big difference, and sometimes not. And so on. It was a good idea and done pretty well.

For much of the book, you wouldn't imagine anyone willing to pick it up being intimidated by any of the math. At the end (the last third of the book, really), she goes some into category theory. She is a Category Theorist, so this makes some sense. But it felt like she got a little further afield than in earlier parts. There it feels a little closer to other attempts to make "higher" math accessible. I mean, it's not *bad*, and I liked some of it a lot---it's just that it felt that she fell out of her groove a little.

One thing I found more jarring than I should have: it's pretty clearly written by a Brit, not an American.

One thing she's fabulously successful at (in my opinion) is giving a better idea of what math is "about." It's not just solving equations; it's more about simplifying the world. (Well, that's simplifying her argument a bit too much. Certainly parts of math--as she explains--is removing "irrelevant" details down to the point where you can apply relatively simple rules of logic.)...more

I guess you could call this a series of essays, though it is “really” a bunch of blog posts that they got together into a book. Still, they’re good anI guess you could call this a series of essays, though it is “really” a bunch of blog posts that they got together into a book. Still, they’re good and entertaining and interesting. They can write (or at least, they can when they’re allowed to choose their best stuff.) It’s almost like sitting-on-the-can reading, as all the essays pretty short.

The most memorable was written by Levitt’s father, a doctor, telling the story of dealing with the medical/hospital system as his daughter (Levitt’s sister) is dying. It’s pretty depressing how screwed up the system is.

If you like their (other) book(s), you’ll like this. ...more

Another math-for-layman book, that is not really all that distinguishable from the rest. There's some attempts to explain sReally more like 3.25 stars

Another math-for-layman book, that is not really all that distinguishable from the rest. There's some attempts to explain some simple (and not-so-simple) math concepts. There's some historical anecdotes.

The main thrust here is that we as humans don't appreciate how randomness affects our world. (Bruce Willis went to LA in 1984, either to visit a girlfriend or to see the Olympics. While there, someone suggested he read for a part in "Moonlighting." If he hadn't gone out there in the first place, would we have heard of him? Probably not; just randomness happening.) The author doesn't really offer any solution to the problem of whether/when a studio head should be fired---though he does point out that sometimes decisions work out well by dumb luck.

A few of the historical anecdotes, I hadn't heard before. (Though one I did hear a second time, just by coincidence, shortly after reading it in this book.) I'm not really the target audience here, as I understand pretty much all of the math concepts he tried to explain (at least, and usually much past, the level of detail he provided). But I don't feel that there was anything he did that was so much better than what I have read before. Still, the overall theme is interesting and different enough, and the writing itself was fine (his explanations were mostly not *worse* than what I've read elsewhere) for a modestly positive review....more

The explicit purpose of this book was to combine storytelling and risk assessment. The writingReally 3.5

I wanted to like this book better than I did.

The explicit purpose of this book was to combine storytelling and risk assessment. The writing is quite good. But I found too much philosophy and not enough hard-headed probability.

Each chapter tries to address a different aspect of life. And each chapter starts with a little story about one of their stock characters: Norm (who craves, tries to understand, and believes in all the probabilities), Prudence (who is extremely risk-averse), and Kelvin (who gets a rush from risky behavior).

I liked the use of "micoromorts" to allow comparisons to show us (for example) that a day of scuba diving is about as dangerous as 500 miles (or whatever) of riding a motorcycle.

The data was great, but there was too much wheel-spinning "analysis."...more

This is a nice layman's math book. He focuses down on one topic enough that he can say something (relatively) new and still come out understandable.

HThis is a nice layman's math book. He focuses down on one topic enough that he can say something (relatively) new and still come out understandable.

His main thing is to talk about events that seem atoundingly unlikely (e.g. winning the lottery twice). He has lot of different rules and explanations. E.g. A one-in-a-million event will happen if you try a million times; *something* has to happen; sf you decide *after* the event what is interesting, then you're not really playing fair about what counts as interesting.

He does tie himself up in knots a little to avoid using mathematical language, and he reverts to coins and dice a little too often, but he keeps it moving....more

Written by a mathematician whose stated aim is to get his readers to understand what math is *really* about (as opposed to what one learnsReally 3.5.

Written by a mathematician whose stated aim is to get his readers to understand what math is *really* about (as opposed to what one learns in school).

The guy has had an interesting life. He was born in the USSR, and couldn't get into the "right" college (MGU) for math because he's Jewish. But he's able to muddle through, thanks to the large population of Jewish (and non-Jeweish) mathematicians in Moscow who are used to getting around this exact problem. He's a really good mathematician and gets published and so on; but then he graduates and has the same problem---he can't get into a graduate school in the USSR because he's Jewish. Fortunately, he's just exactly the right age, and perestroika is starting, so when he gets invited to Harvard, he can go. (And eventually when he's visiting professorship is up, Harvard lets him be demoted to graduate student so that he can get his Ph.D.)

While he was giving the more biographical story, I was pretty interested. But remember that his stated purpose was to introduce his math (the Langlands Program) to the layman. I can't really say whether he succeeded, as I skimmed through most of it. Not that I couldn't have understood (probably)---after all, I am a mathematician. The thing is, though, that if I was interested in that particular math, I would have studied it in grad school.

The writing is a little choppy, which is surely understandable as English is his second language. But the editing is pretty poor, too---there seemed to be several places where he repeated himself without saying "as I mentioned before" or something similar. That was a little weird. He also seemed a little full of himself at times.

There was a particular story, during his first year at Harvard, where the head of the dept of MGU is invited to MIT. That was (apparently) controversial at the time, as he wasn't supposed to be much of a mathematician, and he apparently was overseeing the rejection of Jews. There's sort of a public confrontation between him and the author. It was an interesting story--I'm a little surprised that I hadn't heard it before, as it happened while I was in grad school, and it's the kind of thing I might have noticed....more

This is a different kind of math-for-the-layman book. I like the idea.

It's a series of essays. The author is an autistic-savantMore like 4.25 stars.

This is a different kind of math-for-the-layman book. I like the idea.

It's a series of essays. The author is an autistic-savant type (one of the essays is on his successful attempt to break a record for most digits of pi memorized), and he just sees the world -- and the world of numbers -- differently. Most math-for-the-layman books try to explain simple (or complicated) math concepts in a way most can understand, or perhaps by metaphor. But here the essays (seem to) try to explain the whole process of math by metaphor. So he captures the feeling of cool math without presenting much of it. I'm not sure that he completely succeeds (or really, that that's what he's trying to do--it may just be me projecting), but the attempt is pretty cool.

There's a cool essay on Shakespeare and his use of 'zero' in his plays---part of the point is that he is just the right age in England to have been one of the earliest generations to even see the concept. There's an interesting riff on numbers in Icelandic (and other languages) where the words for numbers are slightly different depending on what's being counted. Not really math, but not really not-math either. ...more

A little disappointing. I mean, this was Diaconis! (and Ron Graham). But just really bad at both math and magic. Not enough detail on the math (and IA little disappointing. I mean, this was Diaconis! (and Ron Graham). But just really bad at both math and magic. Not enough detail on the math (and I don't think that it was just because I wanted more proof and stuff---there really just wasn't enough description of the math to make sense of what they were talking about). Actually, pretty much the same for the magic. I understand that it's hard to describe card tricks in writing. But they set out to write a book! They have to do better than that! Some interesting biographies at the end of magicians of the 20th century who used math for some of their tricks. The part on juggling was pretty good....more

A story about Perelman, his proof of Poincarre, and his gradual hermitting of himself. Really, too little math in it for me. And it was lackReally 3.5

A story about Perelman, his proof of Poincarre, and his gradual hermitting of himself. Really, too little math in it for me. And it was lacking in math in weird places---like showing a problem given to 7th-graders, but not following up or explaining. It was written by a Russian Jew about the same age as Perelman. And there was a lot about how math in the Soviet Union developed since Stalin or so. (It was a little bit isolated from politics simply because it was so necessary for war efforts.) And quite a bit about the difficulty of being Jewish (or even just having a Jewish name) in the Soviet Union at that time. And that stuff was pretty good. The author seems to have talked to everyone (except Perelman himself, of course). Seemed like it could have been longer, more comprehensive. Maybe a little too much speculation about what Perelman's motivations must have been. Pretty good explication of some of math's politics, and mathematician's thinking, and even some Asperger's stuff. I did learn stuff (about the history, not the math). ...more

This was a good book, but I wasn't the target audience---it was aimed at a more lay audience. He wanted to present the history of mathematics with majThis was a good book, but I wasn't the target audience---it was aimed at a more lay audience. He wanted to present the history of mathematics with major theorems as touchstones. He (sort of, mostly) proved the theorems, put them in context, and discussed what followed. But he was hamstrung by needing to keep to theorems that he could prove with HS algebra.

Still, some cool stuff. Some very clever ways of proving the convergence of the harmonic series. And I hadn't seen Archimedes' proof that the pi for area is the same as the pi for circumference. (Though he skimmed over the part where he says, essentially, that tan(theta)>theta.)

It was funny in the beginning when he was talking about which theorems to include---he said you couldn't do it without including Archimedes, Euclid, Newton and Euler. Seriously, no Gauss? Heron's theorem (with proof) was pretty cool....more

This is the book John got for Joanna when she left our team.

It reports on some of the math that came out of Japan during the long period when Japan wThis is the book John got for Joanna when she left our team.

It reports on some of the math that came out of Japan during the long period when Japan was having no contact with the Western world. Very cool stuff in the problems, and there are lots of them---not really for reading straight through. Some of the prose is just a little weird. Turns out that while Japan was isolating itself from the world (maybe 1400--1850), it was developing its own quirky math. They sort of almost got calculus. They had a lot of geometry. The thing to do in those days was to write down your exciiting problems (and solutions), and post them at the local temple....more

A collection of math essays from Scientific American. Stewart sits in the chair that Martin Gardner once filled.

The problem with this book is that toA collection of math essays from Scientific American. Stewart sits in the chair that Martin Gardner once filled.

The problem with this book is that too many of these essays are just too short, so he didn't get a chance to say anything interesting (to me). Also, several of them were just on topics that didn't interest me much. (Dancing and string? Three consecutive on time travel.) Seems like when you put it in book form, you should add a little more depth. There didn't really seem to be a good reason for "writing" this book. The actual "Cow in the Maze" chapter was interesting---sort of a new form of maze. But I didn't have the patience to actually understand and try to solve the maze.

I didn't hate it, but I can't really recommend it either....more

It's supposed to be a layman's guide to what you can use calculus for. It was frustrating to me how little math it had in it, though I'm clearly not tIt's supposed to be a layman's guide to what you can use calculus for. It was frustrating to me how little math it had in it, though I'm clearly not the audience. (It also seemed just downright wrong in places.)

Actually goes further than I would have thought, with predator/prey models (in the form of Zombie Apocalypse, which would have been more interesting without reference to Pride&Prejudice&Zombies) and calculus of variations.

She has losing weight in the context of optimizing with constraints. Which almost makes sense, but ends up being not very mathematical. There's lots of stories about mathematicians, but I've heard many of them before (Archimedes running naked shouting "Eureka!", Newton avoiding the plague). Her day job seems to be as a blogger explaining physics to the layman, which she came to because she's an English major who married a physicist....more

He wants to write a more modern-day "How to Lie with Statistics." I don't think he's really mathematically qualified, or maybe I'm just not his audienHe wants to write a more modern-day "How to Lie with Statistics." I don't think he's really mathematically qualified, or maybe I'm just not his audience. He spends a lot of time writing (metaphorically) in all-caps about how we're all being suckers by buying this crap. Or something. And he spends a little too much time making up names for the types of ways that numbers can be manipulated. About halfway through the book, he finally reaches his area of expertise---the 2008 Minnesota Senate election (and to a lesser extent the 2000 presidential election). His main point seems to be that we just do not have the capability of deciding elections that are that close---not enough precision in counting methods. Too bad he feels compelled to continue (metaphorically-speaking) to write in all-caps....more

Written by a relatively famous physicist. Purports to examine the question as to whether math is invented or discovered. Never really gets around to 'Written by a relatively famous physicist. Purports to examine the question as to whether math is invented or discovered. Never really gets around to 'answering' that question, and the final chapter is pretty disappointing. But there's a lot of good math history in there---mini-biographies of Newton, Galileo, Descartes, Aristotle among others. (He seems to have an odd bias against Gauss, for reasons I don't understand, and Euler barely receives mention.) Nice description of the rise of non-Euclidean geometry and how it sort of shook the world. Nice case study of knot theory, how it started as a curiosity, continued as an intellectual exercise, before the physicists found it to be very useful. If he had stuck to history, even quirky history, I'd've liked it a lot better. But the philosophy stuff just seemed thrown in there so that he'd have an excuse to write a book; it never really led anywhere....more

All about infinity. Very short. Interesting because it's very much written from the Russian perspective. (For example, most Russian mathematicians areAll about infinity. Very short. Interesting because it's very much written from the Russian perspective. (For example, most Russian mathematicians are listed as authors of 'outstanding works', while Gauss is merely 'the greatest German mathematician of the 19th century.' Well, yes, but....) Four chapters. The first is on philosophical stuff, and not so interesting. The second is on basic Cantor stuff. The third gets into space-filling curves (and similar); actually, I didn't know much about a lot of this stuff. And then the last was about Godel-type stuff. Good stuff all around, but didn't really grab me much.

Really a textbook for, maybe an advanced non-math major. Lots of interesting stuff. (Interesting bit on solving Hilbert's third problem---whether a teReally a textbook for, maybe an advanced non-math major. Lots of interesting stuff. (Interesting bit on solving Hilbert's third problem---whether a tetrahedron an be cut up and repasted into a square. Awesome use of tensor products!) It would have been a lot better if I had had more time (or patience) to go carefully through the exercises. And reading in dribs and drabs before work probably broke it up in the wrong places....more