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How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking
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How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  17,353 ratings  ·  1,613 reviews
The Freakonomics of matha math-world superstar unveils the hidden beauty and logic of the world and puts its power in our hands

The math we learn in school can seem like a dull set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In How Not to Be Wrong, Jordan Ellenberg shows us how terribly limiting this view is: Math isn’t confined to abstract incidents that
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published May 29th 2014 by Penguin Press
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Dave I just finished it as an audiobook. I'd say that about 85% of it is just fine in audio. There were some parts where geometric diagrams would have been…moreI just finished it as an audiobook. I'd say that about 85% of it is just fine in audio. There were some parts where geometric diagrams would have been helpful and another part about elections wherein it was slightly difficult to follow the tables of numbers, but overall it's more theory than actual computations. Overall, you'll be fine in audio.

He actually states in the first few pages that the book isn't about doing math, but understanding and applying math. He tries to avoid complex computation since that's not his focus in the text.(less)
Nitesh Kanthaliya ln(10000) is not equal to 4 but log(10000)=4. ln the former case log has base as e, but in the latter case, log has base 10. In calculator, when you p…moreln(10000) is not equal to 4 but log(10000)=4. ln the former case log has base as e, but in the latter case, log has base 10. In calculator, when you press ln, it takes base as e and hence the answer. Hope it clarifies.(less)

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Here's the deal. If you're a social scientist or a physical scientist (me) who works outside the world of controlled laboratory data, you have to make sense of the world with imperfect experiments. You often have limited data, you can't repeat your experiments, and the differences between your subject and control are sometimes very fuzzy. Yet you have to try to make some inferences even though imperfect data are all you have. How do you do that in an honest and careful way? That's what How Not T ...more
Will Once
Jun 07, 2015 rated it liked it
I so wanted to like this book.

It's a topic I enjoy. I flicked through the book and the author was saying things that I agree with. Jordan clearly knows what he is talking about. All the signs were good.

So why the 3 stars? Because the book is unfortunately quite dull. There are long sections where Jordan spends ages proving some mathematical point or other, but then he doesn't draw any conclusions from it.

He starts with a story about school kids not liking mathematics because they can't see the r
David Rubenstein
Jul 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book about mathematics and its application to everyday life. Jordan Ellenberg shows that the certainty that people associate with math is often misplaced; some areas of math are devoted to uncertainty, and that's where things get very interesting.

Ellenberg starts the book with a beautiful example of application of mathematics, logic, and thinking out of the box. During World War II, a group of mathematicians working for the Statistical Research Group were given a problem by s
Kara Babcock
I math for a living. I mathed, both amateurly and professionally, at school. I math quite a bit. And as a math teacher, I like reading "pop math" books that try to do for math what many science writers have done for science. So picking up How Not to Be Wrong was a no-brainer when I saw it on that bookstore shelf. I’ve read and enjoyed some of Jordan Ellenberg’s columns on Slate and elsewhere (some of them appear or are adapted as chapters of this book). And he doesn’t disappoint.

I should make on
Apr 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book was an excellent guide to the many ways in which our intuitions and poorly understood statistical training can lead us astray. One of the areas that it covers is regression to the mean, a concept which pretty much everyone needs to be aware of, since a better awareness of its ubiquity would prevent a lot of errors. Among other things, this concept explains why a successful pilot study is likely to give worse results when rolled out, why a good performance is often followed by a worse p ...more
Amit Mishra
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Mathematics is a piece of music the deeper you allow yourself to understand its lyrics you will understand the practicality of it in real life. It can be a dull and unimaginative concept that only deals with some of the already established formulas. It paved a way for people to live their life hassle-free.
It brings the practicality and scientific conclusion on any topic whether it's about calculation for about judging a person. With probability and numbers, it makes us our life comfortable.
Jun 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Where language and math meet is where my head explodes.

That's this book.

Fortunately, the author has a funny, down-to-earth style that keeps me going even when my eyes glaze over and start to roll back into my head. That has nothing to do with him; it's all me. He and I have a fundamental difference in wiring: he loves numbers and the things they can do. For him they sing. For me, they are instruments of torment and deceit.

Let me give you an example. Here's one from page 44 et seq., where he dem
Jun 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable, entry-level book, particularly recommended to any lover of applied maths who did not get prior significant exposure to the main concepts of statistics and probability calculus.
The author writes in a very engaging and conversational manner, and his enthusiasm for maths is quite contagious; I like how he manages to compellingly convey the message that math is a creative process, not a sterile, procedural slog.
While the book is designed to be understood by a wide audience, so it is neces
Apr 15, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2014
Almost everything that we do these days has some sort of mathematical element to it, from analysis by companies that are looking for patterns, voting, the stock market and ways of winning the lottery.

Ellenberg does make some reasonable arguments; I particularly liked the explanations on the three way voting where the favoured guy can end up being eliminated purely because of the first past the post method, and the way that groups were able to exploit a badly designed lottery.

And most of the tim
kartik narayanan
Jun 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
I am one of those fortunate individuals who cherishes and loves Mathematics, in all its forms. But, I know, a lot of people for whom the Maths is a dreaded specter.

Why is that so? Inevitably, this is a problem that arises from the way the subject has been taught. And this is what the book tries to dispel. This book takes us behind the numbers, equations, theories and abstruse concepts to show the practical applications of whatever we have been taught. Along the way, the history of these various
Mar 22, 2022 rated it it was amazing
The book's description gives a fairly accurate account of its contents.

Except that calling it "the freakonomics of math" does not do it justice. I find this book much more interesting.

A joy to read. No formulas in sight while conveying the essence of the many topics. I loved how the author starts a story about a concept, then gets distracted into another also very interesting story, to finally return to the first thread. Fascinating and never boring. I hope that his other book is just as good.
Having come back to math in my late twenties, this book was comforting and gave me hope that learning the equations and complicated language would not be for nothing. It's also a lot of fun to read. ...more
☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
Is math really twice removed from our lives? Nope.
The very incredibly incredible math story from a math child prodigy (in his day), now a professor (a sensible one! a rara avis!). Fun and readable and readily comprehensible tale making math closer and WAY cooler!

“Mathematics is pretty much the same. You may not be aiming for a mathematically oriented career. That’s fine—most people aren’t. But you can still do math. You probably already are doing math, even if you don’t call it that. Math is w
Jul 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
Have you ever heard the joke, "I'm an English Major. You do the math." or "There are three kinds of people in this world. Those who are good at math, and those who aren't."?

Both of those apply to me. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate math, that my mind draws blanks when it comes to anything relating to it. So why did I read this book? It was a book club selection that I wouldn't have picked up otherwise.

I respect what Eilenberg is trying to do, which is to make math more accessible. He succ
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
This is a very practical, useful, and beautifully-written book on mathematics, particularly about mathematical thinking. I learnt about this book back in 2016 from the review of Bill Gates []. Since then it had been sitting idly in my to-read list of 2017. However, I finally picked it up at the end of 17. But I wasn't paying enough "attention"! I believed in its worth but I felt I wasn't being committed enough to the contents of this book! Cause to enjoy a ...more
Kylie Rae
I'm definitely someone very interested in math -- I have a BA in math and I'm pursuing a Master's in Analytics. However, this book got a bit too abstract even for me. I was hoping for more examples of applied mathematics, and while this book definitely had that, there were often theoretical/abstract/historical asides that seemed distracting. I also think there was too much information about mathematicians that wasn't needed; it just detracted from the examples and things got muddled. I would hav ...more
Cheryl struggles to catch up
(Done - those of you who have already liked this may want to reread now!)

I like math. I want to be reminded of how cool it can be, and how relevant. But all the books like this, including this, that I've attempted to read have too much explication of the maths and not enough of what it actually means. For example, a chapter will start by explaining that c + a = a +c and just a paragraph later will expect us to know what a quadratic equation is, what it means, and how to solve it. What I'm saying
Brian Clegg
Aug 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the preface to Jordan Ellenberg's chunky maths book (441 pages before the notes in the version I read) we are introduced to a hypothetical student moaning about having to work through a series of definite integrals and complaining 'When am I going to use this?' What Ellenberg sets out do is to show how we use mathematics all the time - and how important it is to understand it if we are not to get the wrong idea about the world. We'll see how well he does.

It was very interesting to read this b
Oct 11, 2014 rated it liked it
The press for this book seems a little overblown. It is decidedly not the "freakonomics of mathematics." Rather than hitting a plethora of topics, like Innumeracy and other popular books have done, Ellenberg homes in on just a few: linearity (consider: most trend lines are Laffer curves, not straight lines); inference (consider: an FBI algorithm determines that you are probably a terrorist; what are the odds that you are a terrorist? very very low; false positives almost always vastly outnumber ...more
Katia N
Nov 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Interesting and elegant book about Maths (and data) and its applications in our daily life. I would not call it very original as there are quite a few recent books on the topic. But it was quite refreshing to read the book on the topic by the proper mathematician. He managed to explain Bayesian theory very clearly so I finally understood it while Nate Silver failed to do it for me in his book.

Overall if you read "Thinking fast and slow" by Daniel Kahneman and "The signal and the Noise" by Nate
Jimmy Ele
Dec 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: foundation
I loved this book. Brilliant and funny as well as interesting, all mixed in with a touch of that feeling that you are actually learning something and furthering your pursuit of knowledge. 5 stars, great book recommendations throughout as well as a good aid for mathematical concept guidance. This is going in my foundation shelf and I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in finding out many of the amazing actual world applications that math can be put to use for.

I might expound further
Oct 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: waiting
The ultimate test for being total math-nerd.

I found out that I'm not one.
May 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most amazingly insightful yet simply written book on the importance of math in daily life, simply because math is present even in the most unassuming of places!

There are many things that I absolutely loved about the book. First, the discussion on how a Jewish mathematician Abraham Wald helped refine the strategy of placing armour on WW2 Planes with his counterintuitive yet eureka-esque approach. Second, analyses differ because of the way the math is involved i.e. linear vs. curve graph appr
Jul 27, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: popular-science
An enjoyable read for those with some appreciation of maths though not necessarily a deep or academic understanding. The author does his best, in a fairly chatty and lighthearted style, to show the use of maths as a tool for interpreting and understanding some everyday issues (lotteries, political (and US Supreme Court) decisions, election results, height distributions in the population, health strategies, opinion polls, etc., etc.). How it can be misused as well as be of assistance. A key point ...more
Ryan Bergen
Aug 25, 2019 rated it did not like it
In “How Not to be Wrong” Jordan Ellenberg commits the cardinal sin of not knowing his audience. I really don’t know who he wrote this book for. For those with little math experience, the concepts in this book will be relatively complex and the explanations poor. For those who have a background in math and are passionate about the subject, the lack of proper notation and convoluted explanations for things you likely have already learned will most likely drive you as crazy as it drove me. He’s cle ...more
Jonathan Peto
Nov 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, math
Another reviewer wrote that this book does not really focus on “How Not to Be Wrong”. I completely disagree. There are five parts, named after a big idea, and each one explains how that idea and math relate to not being wrong…

Here are the five parts: Linearity, Inference, Expectation, Regression, and Existence.

Linearity, for example, includes and explains how even researchers screw up by treating data graphed as curves as straight lines… and more.

Among other things, Inference shows the significa
Jeremy Young
Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
5 stars. Title is a bit misleading. Was half expecting a strictly self-help style book prescribing different mathematical models for practical use. Ellenberg does that, but not without giving you the deep dive of the math world as it stands today, outlining its history, and presenting its heroes. He makes the elegant case of how deeply present math is in our everyday lives, and how important it is to do math well. Wish I had read this before taking any math class.
Jan 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned, non-fiction, math
I would reread it just for its explanation of Bayes Law.

But on top of that Ellenberg is a good synthesizer. You get lots of entertaining anecdotes but they are in service of a higher point. It may take a while to get there but feels worth the wait.

I also like that he tries to debunk the “cult of the genius” and its corollary “the tortured genius”. (Ellenberg probably isn’t a fan of A Beautiful Mind and he tweeted shade at The Queen’s Gambit)
Andrey S
Jun 12, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: crap, non-fiction
While math parts of this book were OK and sometimes even pretty good it has many issues.
We spend too much time on that lottery example and mostly on parts that are not related to math (why didn't the state stopped lottery? If it has nothing to do with differential equations or something like that why would we care?)
But the most noticeable problem is the one that you can find in many bad popular science books written in the US. Basically, it goes like this "Some math stuff or physics or whatever
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I've wanted to just casually read books about mathematics since the first time I watched Good Will Hunting. I realize now that the movie is a little naively pretentious, but it's inspirational, at least in the first half. So here we are, I was inspired to pretentiously read a book about mathematics, and I ended up loving it! It focused heavily on statistics, but it also included various other topics. My favorite part was about prime numbers, which I naturally read out loud to my friends and fami ...more
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Jordan Ellenberg is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His writing has appeared in Slate, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the Believer.

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