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A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  910 ratings  ·  87 reviews
With the same user-friendly, quirky, and perceptive approach that made Innumeracy a bestseller, John Allen Paulos travels though the pages of the daily newspaper showing how math and numbers are a key element in many of the articles we read every day.  From the Senate, SATs, and sex, to crime, celebrities, and cults, he takes stories that may not seem to involve mathematic ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published September 26th 1997 by Anchor (first published April 6th 1995)
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Jun 23, 2007 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Nov 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Charles Eliot
Mar 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
May 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 17, 2010 rated it it was ok
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 rated it liked it
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
Sarah Delacueva
Nov 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
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.
Dec 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fabulous read - highly recommended

I have to say I really enjoy John Allen Paulo's style of writing. His wry observations and insights are wonderful to behold on paper.

The book is somehow timeless, it is as useful and observant now as it was when written.

An easy recommendation to make.
Nour Sharif
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Dragged a bit on the end but everyone should read this book, especially those who struggle with mathematics and basically anyone who is eligible to vote to put statistics into context. My only problem with it is that the tone of the writer seemed to be very condescending towards the lifestyle section of the newspaper that is often catered to women and entertainment of women.
will definitely spur u to be "that guy" ...more
Jun 18, 2019 rated it liked it
This wasn't as great as I thought it would be. It's quite dated and is mostly the ramblings of a guy who is vaguely dissatisfied with his newspaper. A lot of it I already teach in my class, that correlation doesn't equal causation, etc.

I did think the following was useful though:
1. That most news stories emanate from other, already popular news stories. There's a bias toward things already reported.
2. Calculating the effectiveness of large armies, even if they aren't very effective.
3. Most p
Jun 27, 2019 rated it liked it
I struggled with this one.

I don't think it's a case of Mr. Paulos's authorship, but rather a case of my understanding of the concepts.

Regardless, I still did get the feeling this is a book to be read and will definitely be revisiting it at some point.

The one big takeaway I got was that everyday mathematics can be picked up from the daily news, something I shall be paying attention to in future.

One observation, I do believe that to better enjoy this book it would be worth getting up to speed with
Joseph Carrabis
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have rarely enjoyed (or laughed out loud as much) a non-fiction book as much as I enjoyed A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. It was enjoyable both due to my background in mathematics and social psychology, and Paulos is a gifted storyteller. The best part is that you don't need any scientific training to appreciate it. A good read. ...more
Moses Hetfield
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was interesting and fun to read. I was worried it would too dated (a book on current events written before I was born?!?), but Paulos writes more about general principles of things to notice in newspapers that remain relevant.
Some of his points are more insightful than others, but he does provide many cool examples of ways to apply mathematics to the way we read newspapers.
Sarah Rigg
Nov 24, 2018 rated it liked it
This was written in the mid-90s and the media landscape has changed SO much that some passages of this book read as rather quaint and obsolete. However, his analysis of what goes wrong with statistics, numbers, relative risks and so on in news stories still applies in the age of the internet. I'd love to see him release an updated version of this book for the age of online media. ...more
Brown Robin
Jul 29, 2020 rated it liked it
The title is pre-internet click-bait, but the book delivers. This is an accessible guide to numeracy, a zooming camera view of what mathematics does, how it permeates the world and frames the way people fluent in math interact with the world.

I cherish this book, and recommend it to you, even if you don't think you're the audience for it. You might be surprised.
dead letter office
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
Much less interesting and worthwhile than Innumeracy. Pretty disappointing. ...more
Alex Ashton
Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Extremely relevant even today. Easy to read with something else or read a chapter a day because each section is so short. Helps shed light on many of the numbers and ideas we consume in the news daily.
Oct 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
DNF. It was probably interesting at some point, but it was written 25 years ago and so much has drastically changed that everything is very outdated. Journalism doesn’t exist anymore, unfortunately, which has been replaced with “communications” ie, propaganda.
Anthony Faber
May 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Some of the content is covered in his other books, but he's amusing enough that it's worth reading.
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
A nice collection of short musings by an expert on how not to be misled by popular news sources.
Jan 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Some stories are dated and/or dry - but others are timeless and illustrative.
Peter Chen
Jul 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good book

This was a good read. It was difficult to read at times but generally light and funny. I had lots of fun reading it and it really opened up my eyes to new things.
Jun 13, 2018 rated it liked it
It is an interesting take on a mathematician reading a newspaper. Every story, or almost every story, in a newspaper has mathematical angle to it and the author brings that point to life on topics as varied as economy to those numerous - Top 10 lists.
Aaron Wong
Feb 13, 2015 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
Jan 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
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.
Jun 11, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jim Razinha
Aug 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 28, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Alex Hasha
Mar 26, 2010 rated it liked it
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
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