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Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  5,945 ratings  ·  677 reviews
An international bestseller

The book-length answer to anyone who ever put their hand up in math class and asked, "When am I ever going to use this in the real world?"

"Fun, informative, and relentlessly entertaining, Humble Pi is a charming and very readable guide to some of humanity's all-time greatest miscalculations--that also gives you permission to feel a little better
Paperback, 314 pages
Published March 7th 2019 by Allen Lane
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Average rating 4.13  · 
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 ·  5,945 ratings  ·  677 reviews

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Jun 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Humble Pi takes us on a tour of the times when math, engineering, and programming have gone wrong, leading to disastrous or sometimes just funny results. The book covers a range of mistakes, including bridge failures, space exploration disasters, game show cheats, financial algorithms gone rogue, and so much more.

I pretty much loved this book from start to finish. I found it thoroughly fascinating and often hilarious. Parker has a great way with explaining technical subjects, distilling it down
☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
Turns out that pi's not as humble as one could imagine. That many people actually did die as a result of many of the errors is tragic and definitely takes most of fun from the comedy. The unfortunate book name aside, it's a magnificent read into how maths go bump in everywhere.

‘Plaintiff’s insistence that the commercial appears to be a serious offer requires the Court to explain why the commercial is funny. Explaining why a joke is funny is a daunting task.’ (c)
I went with my favourite metho
Nov 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
A delightful, funny, and low stakes way to enjoy the world of “maths.” Chock full of errors—ranging from program bugs to engineering mishaps to faulty Excel formulas to weird rounding mistakes—in Humble Pi, Matt Parker introduces the kind of math mistakes that can afflict the hoi polloi and rankle the experts too!

Matt Parker’s narration of the audiobook made this one even more fun to listen to. I found plenty of humor in his very drawn out rendition of “0.00000000000000000000000000167.” There ar
Feb 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I really enjoyed this book!

I'm one of those people who got labelled "bad at math" at a young age because I struggled with arithmetic (and still do). That resulted in my getting handed a lot of books of "math is fun!" type puzzles when I was a kid, which were definitely much more fun than math class. I learned to differentiate "math" from "arithmetic" and stubbornly took math classes up through calculus, which was fascinating, but which I've sadly never had any occasion to put to use. To make th
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, maths
Knew I was going to love this book when I opened it and immediately saw the page numbers going the wrong way.
It is a lot of fun the whole way through. Parker takes us through some of his favourite, or some of the more noteworthy, cases of maths going wrong across a variety of applications. We're talking engineering and computing, from bridges to spacecraft to calendars to ancient sumerian tablets. His enthusiam shines brightly through, and it's hard to not be infected by it. His writing is infus
Mark Loughridge
I love maths. I enjoy finding out about mathematical and statistical errors. I was thinking some of my maths teacher friends might enjoy it and find it useful for illustrations in class. Thats where the plot breaks down a little.

I enjoyed the book but was a little disappointed that so much was taken from fields of computing and engineering, where the issue wasn't strictly a mathematical failure, but a failure, for example, to understand the limits of binary, or load-bearing, or resonant frequenc
May 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
Summary: not very interesting, and it's not about maths errors.

This book is a collection of anecdotes that you can read anywhere: most of them I had read before, and you can find them on the internet, too. They're bundled by theme here, which is convenient, but the writer tries too hard to make them appear connected, and more often than not that results in uninspired paragraphs. Here's an example from a random page:

"But what happens when computers try to divide by zero? Unless they've been expli
Brian Clegg
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Matt Parker had me thoroughly enjoying this collection of situations where maths and numbers go wrong in everyday life. I think the book's title is a little weak - 'Humble Pi' doesn't really convey what it's about, but that subtitle 'a comedy of maths errors' is far more informative.

With his delightful conversational style, honed in his stand-up maths shows, it feels as if Parker is a friend down the pub, relating the story of some technical disaster driven by maths and computing, or regaling us
Feb 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: popular-science
A Christmas present book from a relative in recognition of my past technical career.
Each chapter a nugget of information about some ‘maths’ error that has caused us problems in everyday life. I put ‘maths’ in inverted commas as many of the issues may be a poor engineering implementation of some analysis. As each chapter is independent of others it’s easy to dip in and out of the book when one fancies light relief from the more serious business of reading fiction!

Not normally a book I’d review on
Emma Bostian
Apr 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was one of the most highly entertaining books I’ve ever read. Whitty and easily digestable I would recommend this to anyone remotely interested in math or engineering.
Lots of interesting anecdotes. Sometimes the math and science explanations went over my head. Quite funny.
Erica Clou
I was getting ready to give this book 3 stars at the beginning but as I went on I realized that some of these math mental hurdles are driving the covid spread. For starters, many Governors, even 11 months in seem fundamentally unaware of how exponential growth works which is the underlying prediction threat of covid growth. Additionally, most people have very little familiarity with even the basics of how statistics work, useful in understanding all types of science research, for example in vacc ...more
G V  Sandeep
Dec 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Was a fun read. Amazed and shocked to see the consequences of mathematical errors.
A collection of Engineering Bloopers
Apr 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not a math person, but I read a really nice write up of this and decided to give it a try from the local library. One of my quarantine changes is that I now have a dedicated reading hour each morning with my daughter. When she went to school in person, her school practiced this post lunch and suggested incorporating it into her school at home schedule. I mention this specifically, because to be honest, in a pre-COVID-19 world, I would have 100% thought about finishing this, but never done i ...more
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Collection of anecdotes, some of which I knew, but the bulk of them I did not. Explanations for "uninitiated" are neither long-winded nor tedious, stories are quite interesting, and I found that the book flows really well. Can recommend ...more
Purnesh Tripathi
May 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Humble Pi is a brilliant piece of writing which will make you laugh at least once on every page. Matt is a mathematician and you can easily tell that even if you don't have much background about him, by his style of writing.

The book's 11th Chapter in particular was so breathtakingly gripping, that I finished it in one go. Even the other parts of the book read like an epic collection of short stories, each of which, combined with excellent writing skills, provide for am exhilerating experience.

Jul 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not so much a comedy since most errors ended up as tragedy. And yet, it is an important book to be written - what with mushrooming engineering colleges churning out supposed engineers every year!

The author doesn't dumb it down and hence some of the places are tough to comprehend. At the same time, the errors which were non-tragic and even funny (like Gandhi going all nuclear thanks to math error) were explained with so much passion that make your trivia quotient.

Some of the concepts were high sc
Cameron Aird
Feb 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Matt Parker is an Australian mathematician, author and comedian. A former maths teacher, he has made a living for himself popularising maths tours and videos in real life and online. He has previously written one book on the topic of mathematics, Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension, as well as co-writing Hacking the Kinect.

The book of his I will be reviewing is non-fiction, Humble Pi, A Comedy of Maths Errors, published in 2019. The book focuses on many mistakes in real life consequen
Before I retired, I worked in a government department that no one ever noticed because it had a low profile. This wasn't nefarious, it just wasn't a department that got press, such as education, health or highways maintenance. What this department did have was a whole world of very specific acronyms and jargon that meant absolutely nothing to anyone not working there. Sometimes when a group of us got together socially, we would inevitably end up talking about work and this would lead to knee-sla ...more
Ondrej Urban
May 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This time it's a fuor-and-a-half stars, not that it will hurt Matt in any way. Humble Pi (love both the title and the cover design) talks about mathematical errors that happen or happened in the past. From MS Excel being too smart for its own good to programmers taking intended or unintended shortcuts that cause everything from annoyance to death, this book covers most of it.

Unlike Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension, Matt's other book, this one will not make your head hurt and brain s
Craig Fiebig
Jan 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
What if one-third of all spreadsheets included at least one formulaic error? What if the reason the shuttle crashed was not narrowly due to brittle o-rings but because the estimates of reliability themselves were fundamentally flawed? Parker takes the reader on a fun tour of our societal reliance on robust arithmetic ("maths" in his quaintly Queen's own rendition) and the degree to which our 'maths' are riddled with error. Although his search for humor tends toward trying too hard the work reall ...more
Martijn Reintjes
Feb 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Don't get me wrong, I love math, and I love stories.
But it takes a real skill to tell stories about math and fill a whole book with it and keep it compelling.
This book wasn't.

Sure the stories where fun
And the math problems interesting

But math can be dry, and Matt wasn't able to keep the story moist.
Mar 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you are a geek into maths and programming, you will love this book. If you are not, you will love this book. Mathematics was not my favourite subject in school, but this book is very educative and also quite funny. Through his maths errors stories, Matt Parker makes you give algorithms, formulas and binary code a second chance and appreciate their roles in all aspects of our lives.
Nov 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2020
A very frequently seen meme on social media asks which book really made you cry with the answer being,'My Maths textbook', an answer that strikes a cord with many many people!
Complaining about how abstract mathematical concepts seem in school and college to wondering when we will ever find practical use for differential equations and calculus to growing to appreciate how much of what we have learnt is silently making things work all around us is a journey many of us make.

This witty, insightful
Sid Nuncius
May 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I thought Humble Pi was simply brilliant. It is fascinating and very funny in places.

Matt Parker is both a mathematician and a comedian, both of which show strongly here. He gives us a book crammed with extremely interesting examples of the importance of maths in our world and of what can go wrong when the maths isn’t done right. These extend from bridge disasters and medical tragedies to glitches in computer games, financial fiddles and so on.

It sounds like the sort of book where I’d normally
Oct 06, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A light, pleasant break from heavier material. Many stories were familiar, but he presents them in a way that is not “Ha! Let’s laugh at the dumb mistakes these smart people made,” but more “math is cool, but we need to be careful. We are now smarter than our brains can understand”. By that last sentence I mean something like, we regularly work with numbers without really having a concept of how FREAKING big they are. Like 1 million seconds ago was 11 and a half days ago.
1 billion seconds ago w
Nov 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, nonfiction
Bridges, walkways, Lake Peigneur, fighter jets, and Pepsi points, the number 53, common beliefs about odds, geometry mistakes, and misunderstanding about numbers are the topics of this little book. It is with razor-sharp wit and a super understanding of maths that these stories are related where math has been misconfigured, overlooked, or completely ignored. Amazingly, when you consider all the failures of man, it is amazing that more people have not died as humans are more likely to exaggerate ...more
First let's start with his adorable acknowledgement at the back "as always, my wife, Lucie Green, supplied tea and moral support in roughly equal quantities (and put up with me occasionally shouting, 'This whole book is a mistake!')" Because first, it demonstrates the fantastically placed humor throughout the book and how very English he is.

Next, he addresses the elephant in the room with an amazing quote: "As far as I'm aware, the only quote from me that has been made into a poster by teachers
Aug 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-maths
An interesting and breezy collection of stories about maths errors that resulted in incorrectly illustrated and nonfunctional soccer balls, funky code, collapsing or bouncing bridges (and other structures), nonfunctional airplanes, financial disasters and disastrous space flights, amongst others. The author has a sly humour and an easy writing style. This book isn't particularly technical. The author manages to make mathematical blunders an entertaining reading experience while illustrating the ...more
Ben Rogers
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Just a gem of a book.

So many interesting pieces about math. Some I knew already, but most were great new learnings!

Matt is a very compelling and funny writer. With hints of Mary Roach and Randall Munroe. My favorite type of writer - two parts education, one part entertainment.

Some portions of this book I'll remember forever. Really good trivial knowledge book.

Would definitely read more of Parker in the future.

Highly recommended for any fans of smart comedy.

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Matt Parker is a former maths teacher who communicates about mathematics via YouTube videos, stand-up comedy, and books.

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