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Count Down: Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World's Toughest Math Competition

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  157 ratings  ·  32 reviews
Each summer six math whizzes selected from nearly a half-million American teens compete against the world’s best problem solvers at the International Mathematical Olympiad. Steve Olson followed the six 2001 contestants from the intense tryouts to the Olympiad’s nail-biting final rounds to discover not only what drives these extraordinary kids but what makes them both ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 2nd 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Aug 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After I had finished this book, I was trying to pinpoint the source of its excellence. I think it is threefold:

(a) Full disclosure - I have a master's in math, so was predisposed to find it interesting
(b) Actually (a) may be more or less irrelevant. What I realize is that books wherein someone who can write well takes the topic of their own, or someone else's obsession, and communicates the essence of that obsession are, to me, fascinating. Other examples that come to mind are "Word Freak",
I was enjoying learning about the International Mathematical Olympiad, getting a glimpse into the kids who compete at these things, but then I put it down for a bit to read some fiction. Now I find I'm not that enthusiastic about picking it up again. It's well written and the author makes what could be considered a dry subject quite interesting--the focus isn't so much on the math itself, but on the study of mathematics in the US vs. other countries, and what makes a "genius." Even though the ...more
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book was all over the place. When reading the title, one would think this book would be about the 6 kids that competed in the math competition or an overview of the competition itself. Instead, the book jumps around from giving background on contestants, to scientific studies on intellect, to some of the activities that occurred at the competition, to advocacy for better math curricula in schools. Oh, and there are math problems explained in detail that only hardcore math people would read ...more
I really wanted to love it since I thought that the topic and how the author set it up was really interesting. Plus I had read his book Eruption and thought it was a great read. There were so many themes that the author tried to cover, including education, diversity, inequality, immigration, how students learn, competition, standardized testing, etc. that it was too much of a hodgepodge. The book felt disjointed.
Dec 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A truly inspirational book for kids and parents which is cited very well with researches along. You would realize what it takes to compete in IMO not only applies to math but whatever the hardest journey you endeavour.
Aug 10, 2010 rated it liked it
Count Down : Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World's Toughest Math Competition is a book following a bunch of students competing for the US team in the International Mathematics Olympiad. You probably weren't aware there was such a thing. I was -- mainly because when I was growing up, and going to math camps, I knew some of the kids who competed, or aspired to compete, in them.

I was never part of that crowd -- for whatever reason, I'm not a "math contest" sort of guy. As I went on in mathematics,
James Carter
I picked up Count Down because I was mainly interested in knowing how the students prepared for the AMC/AIME/USAMO/IMO tests. And...there was nothing about it. Imagine my disappointment and frustration.

Instead, I was forced to read the bland generalizations of the six budding mathematicians such as "He was good in music," "We never pushed him in math," and "Quite frankly, we don't know." Okay, thanks a lot...what a perception!

I just wanted to know what mathematics books they specifically
Apr 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An excellent read about the brightest teens in the world! This was fun to read about the different kids and their amazing problem solving abilities. The cut throat competitiveness and how difficult it is to even be selected to train for the Math Olympiad is eye opening. The best of the best math students from the US go head to head with Koreans, Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese - what an Olympics!

WHY haven't I heard more about this amazing annual world wide competition?

Very interesting
Jun 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, math
A light study of the six problems, and the six members of the US team, at the 2001 International Mathematics Olympiad. Intertwined with Olson’s dissections of the math problems and an example solution for each by a team member are ruminations on what makes up what we think of as math “genius:” talent, creativity, competitiveness, dedication, and so on. Olson asks questions such as whether geniuses are born or made and why women do not excel at math as much as men, exploring various arguments ...more
Dec 08, 2010 rated it liked it
This book was exhausting. I liked it. I like math and I'm good at it and though I was never someone who was into competing in Math (I dropped out of Math competitions in elementary school because I didn't like it), it was certainly interesting to read about. There was also more of a focus on what makes a genius a genius, and how math is taught in the US compared to other countries. I have a genius-level IQ and I have been taught math in both the US and Germany. I would assume it is because ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

America is not a nation of math-lovers. Olson's subjects are, for the most part, the kind of kids his readers never were. However, he resists turning the Olympians into curiosities or players in a high-stakes drama. Instead, he uses the Olympiad as a springboard for discussing compelling issues of nature, nurture, and competitive drive. Some of these discussions crowd out the kids themselves; Olson doesn't describe their lives as fully as he might. Nor does he consider all the questions raised

Apr 28, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having competed in math competitions when I was younger, I thought this might be interesting, so I picked it up from the remainders pile at the Harvard Book Store. Olson does a commendable job of explaning difficult math problems in a way that the non-math-geek can understand, and the fact that the Olympiad is essentially six word problems allows him to dissect one problem (and the competitors' thinking regarding it) per chapter. A quick and engaging read, though I do wish Olson had spent a ...more
Jan 24, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quick read. A bit of math, but not too much. Just enough to keep me entertained.

The format got tiresome after awhile: each chapter begins with a scene from the Olympiad or some personal story about a participant; then a more general topic in education or mathematics is discussed, and the chapter concludes with a wrapping-up of the initial scene.

The intros to general ed and math topics are cursory, but cover a wide range of topics. This book might serve as a good starting place to pursue some of
Murilo Andrade
Nov 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: math
It was a very nice surprise stumble upon this book. Olson makes the subject interesting even for non-lovers. In a very pleasant narrative, he describes the inners of the most important math competition, IMO, which took place that year in the US.

Six students, six problems and six beautiful solutions for them. For each problem, Olson describes an attribute essential for a so-called Olympian (e.g. Creativity,Talent, Competitiveness, etc), and explains the solutions of one of the contestants, with
Sep 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I'll admit it - I was a math geek in school. Being so, I picked up this book and was delighted to read in the very first chapter about one of the main characters who had competed in a Mathcounts event that I was also at (she kicked my butt, by the way) and that it mentioned several other people I know. I even bought this book for my mom - who was my Mathcounts coach, but I don't think she's read it yet.
Jan 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
About the 2001 42nd IMO. Though the 'focus' is that IMO and it's six US team members, a large majority of the book is spent on discussing contributions to the mathematical success of these kids... what made them who they are? Explores topics like 'nature vs. nurture', why so few women are seen exploring math, the afffect/non-affect of parenting, math education in the US vs other countries, etc. Fairly interesting and a pretty quick read since some of the book is written in narrative form.
Oct 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
about kids competing in the International Mathematical Olympiad. interesting story and discussion of why usa kids/schools do so bad at math (lack of effort, basically) and why women/girls do "so bad" at math. but really, not a very compelling writer. sorry olson. he won all kinds of best science writing awards for "Mapping Human History"
May 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book changed my life when I was 7 years old and gave me an appreciation for the depth of mathematics that has stayed with me ever since. I'll always remember this book as my favorite from my brother's little library of math books.

My earliest ideas of mathematical elegance and beauty came from this book and they have stayed with me ever since.
Hong Deng
Jul 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing book that not only talks about the thrilling lives of six kids who joined the American Olympaid team, it also gives a lot of information about the interesting problems of problem solving. The book also has a lot of insightful details on psychonology.
Dec 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was a really interesting meandering discussion about genius: what that means, where it comes from, how it is nurtured. It was about the math competition but was even more about the kids who were competing.
May 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: math
Not bad. Clear, no-nonsense style. Read during my effort to figure out what makes math beautiful, but like all aesthetic pursuits that don't necessarily employ words, what makes it beautiful can only be talked around. Though the book itself was a bit superficial.
Damon Gulczynski
Feb 17, 2008 rated it liked it
A good quick read for anybody who is either into math, or participated in academic competitions as a kid. The underlying theme about the nature of intelligence is compelling. You certainly do not need to know any math to read it, but a mathematical background probably enhances the experience.
Feb 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Don't worry if you can't do the math; you can still do the sociology!Knocks down such stereotypes as the Math Nerd and, by the way, that "math is a young man's game." Even though the Math Olympiad kids are high schoolers...
Jun 17, 2009 added it
this is good book i read it 4 school. it is about is not really about mathmatics:)
Jun 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Fun read. Would be a great book to change the mind of anyone with a negative appreciation for mathematics. Has some nice challenging problems, too.
Joseph Sales
Mar 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Enjoyed combination of math problem solving and portraits of competitors. Breaks stereotypes of math nerds indeed.
Jan 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very interested if you're into math and math teaching.
Oct 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
how to be better at mathematic
Nov 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult, nonfiction, 2004
Man I did not understand the math in this book.
Jan 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: math nerds or people who like them
Recommended to Caroline by: Dad
This book made me want to be good at math... i am way too left brain though.
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Steve Olson is author of the book Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens, which Amazon has named one of the 20 best nonfiction books published in 2016 and which has been shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature. He is also the author of Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and other books, and ...more