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Change is the Only Constant: The Wisdom of Calculus in a Madcap World

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  237 ratings  ·  42 reviews
An exploration of the intersection between calculus and daily life, complete with Orlin's humor and bad drawings.

By spinning 28 mathematical tales, Orlin shows us that calculus is simply another language to express the very things we humans grapple with every day -- love, risk, time, and most importantly, change. Divided into two parts, "Moments" and "Eternities," and dra
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 8th 2019 by Black Dog & Leventhal
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Average rating 4.32  · 
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Ben Orlin
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Writing this book was a five-star experience! Highly recommended. Here's what you do:

1. Study math in college. Grow to love the stuff, from the sweep of its applications down to the intricate clockwork of the deltas and epsilons. (Optional: marry a mathematician much more skilled and intellectually serious than yourself.)

2. Teach high school math. Come to see calculus through the students' eyes: a thicket of symbols, their meanings obscure. Get a little sad about that.

3. Try to rejuvenate the st
Kam Yung Soh
Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mathematics
An interesting book consisting of fascinating stories about calculus. This is definitely not a calculus textbook but if you ever want to know what calculus was, what it is used for and some interesting facts and stories involving calculus, then this would be a book to read.

There are too many chapters to give a chapter by chapter summary. But the book is divided into two sections based on the two main mathematical parts that make up calculus.

The first section covers "Differentiation" and the deri
Jul 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Entertaining and informative

Here's the deal: I'm an engineer.

Here's the other deal: I despise calculus and suck at it.

Here's the reason: Colleges teach calculus in absurdly formal, mathematical ways, focusing on having students learn a bunch of formulas rather than on having them understand what any of it means anyway. On top of that, the reliance on the antiderivative as an integral method means students spend years trying to perfect this skill - even when as professionals most won't use it at
Oct 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Pro Tip: I read this book immediately after polishing off Maulik Pancholy's The Best at It , in which the main character takes part in his school's Mathletes club. While the book isn't necessarily centered on math, it did help put me (a math-averse adult) back into the right frame of mind to consider math A) a thing that is part of daily life and B) a thing that some people do for fun (WHAT).

I'm not normally much of a "math person," in that I deliberately avoided as much math as I could in sc
Joseph Matuch
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Now I want to take calculus again...

Fun for mathematicians; accessible to everyone.
Dec 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
The book is wonderfully approachable and I would recommend it to almost anyone that might have an interest in stories behind the mathematics. Definitely does not required a calculus background at all. However, as a calculus teacher, while I enjoyed the book I think I was looking for a little more. I think most teachers who have been teaching calculus for a significant amount of time will have already been telling a significant portion of these stories. I know that is probably an unfair criticism ...more
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Yay! As with the first book I managed to not only get a nostalgic tour through math, but learn something at the same time. I think it is a compliment that Orlin manages to write a book that is interesting to both a reader familiar with the subject and one who is absolutely not.

(**tiny tiny wishing there was a little bit more meat in the integral calculus section.)

I think we should buy a bunch of these and leave them lying around high-schools.
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I mean, I have been teaching calculus in high school for longer than most of my students have been alive, so I'm probably a bit biased. That being said, I enjoyed the heck out of this book and think there's definitely something here for everyone, even the folks who say they are "not math people."

If you come in not knowing much, you're not going to leave understanding calculus with anywhere near the rigor you'd expect from a college course or even a well-taught AP Calculus course, but you will ga
Dale Alleshouse
Feb 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Change is the Only Constant is a thoroughly entertaining book. There aren't many authors who could juxtapose humor, history, and mathematical theory into a coherent narrative; however, Ben Orlin does so artfully. While the book clearly states that it won't "teach you calculus"(p. 17), it does provide the "whys" of calculus that are so often absent from traditional math pedagogy. Mr. Orlin showcases his masterful teaching skills by educating readers without their knowledge. Each analogy is deftly ...more
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book entertained me to the nth power, the derivative of which is the natural log of "me" multiplied by the original function (haha), but what really made it such a good read was not the subject matter itself, but the author. You will come across many math books, but this is unlike any: rather than the dry tone utilized by many writers, he takes it upon himself to alleviate both his tone and the illustrations of the solemnity of calculus in order to beguile his readers, and succeeded he did. ...more
Zhi Chen
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Similar to the previous book, Math With Bad Drawings, Change is the Only Constant reveals the many relationships between mathematics (calculus in this case) and the world. I would expect that the book would be more enjoyable for those with exposure to calculus, but most readers will still be able to appreciate how the chapters aim to bridge the two realms, revealing not only mathematical beauty ("What the Wind Leaves Behind" - limits, "The Green-Haired Girl and the Super-Dimensional Whorl" - der ...more
Sanjith Senthil
May 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ben explains to us calculus in the way it should be taught. With stories, paradoxes, pictures, and the occasional punchline. This book won't teach you how to do calculus, but help you what it's for and how it works. Conveying math into a non-technical writing with incredible organization and elegancy is no easy task, but Ben has done it again. "Change is the only constant" is a brilliant book, and I would recommend it to anyone that would like to learn math as it originally was, exciting and inc ...more
Dec 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Overall, enjoyable and enlightening book. I learned several new ways to see core math concepts, and am really glad I read it. My one complaint is that it uses little-known English words often, e.g. “trenchant” and “reviled”, and that interrupted the flow of the book as I don’t know those words.

It makes it a book really only for the most intellectual people, which is ironic, especially given the chapter on David Foster Wallace and big math words. I wish it were more accessible.
Kevin Saunders
Jan 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: humor, nonfiction, 2020
I really enjoyed this book, although maybe not as much as his previous book, Math with Bad Drawings. Spending some time with calculus brought back memories of my time going through Calc 1-3 in college, and while I enjoyed the journey occasionally it would butt up against my own knowledge and I was left wanting a little more concrete math in among the metaphors.

Probably a great introduction to thinking about calculus if you’ve never encountered the subject before.
Oct 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, arcs
As the author states in this book, this book will not teach you calculus. However, it will show you how calculus relates to everyday life. I found myself giggling and smiling often while reading this book, and while learning to look at things a whole new way.

I definitely would recommend this, even to those who dislike math.

Thanks to Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers for the advanced copy.
Nov 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good and interesting book. But I liked Ben's previous book a bit more. This one felt a bit less insightful. A few chapters could use a bit more detail, for example, the 5==7 thing wasn't fully explained or named (it's called "staircase paradox" as I found later). The War&Peace chapter seemed a bit unnecessary and a stretch as it was fairly tangential to the book's topic. ...more
Jun 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An interesting, funny, and approachable read about the beauty of calculus. It's not overly informative for anyone who has studied math, but it's not trying to be. For anyone with a slight aversion to math who has ever wondered why math nerds say things like "Math describes the world", this is a great place to start.
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting book which teaches ideas of calcus with stories and history. The book does not focus much on the application of calcus it's ubiquitous by now, but it gives historical reasoning behind some of the discoveries. It also talks about dichotomy of pure maths vs approximate maths of statistics. Overall nice read
Bobby Wales
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic read. I like algebra and statistics, but I’ve avoided calculus like the plague. Ben Orlin masterfully reduces the barriers to the topic and uses bits of history, science, and humor to explain complicated concepts (similar to Mihir Desai’s book on finance: The Wisdom of Finance, also a great read).
Anish Morakhia
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Such an interesting perspective. Its a little bit random and could use a better flow of thought. Also, this was a bit less intuitive than his first book. Nevertheless, read it for the analogies ( History is an integral )
Dec 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: math
A few interesting bits jumped out to me but mostly I had already heard most of these stories in one form or another. I admire the author for attempting to write a math book that appeals to non math loving people and perhaps he did succeed in capturing that audience.
Michael Wallace
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A really good book on calculus, makes it much more approachable and very understandable. As a calculus tutor, I find it difficult to explain concepts like these to people, so this makes it easier to explain them in concrete words and stories.
Feb 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exactly as excellent as expected

This is not a book to teach you how to do calculus. It’s a book exploring why you might want to. Orlin combines a breezy prose with his trademark stick figures to illuminate mathematical stories. It’s wry, engaging, and highly readable.
Mar 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: math-science
Personally this book didn't land. It tries to explain the fundamentals of calculus, derivatives and integrals, using non-technical anecdotes and humor. I didn't enjoy the humor very much, and a few times the concepts were oversimplified for myself.
Aug 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Super fun read! The drawings were hilarious and informative, and the chapters wonderfully bite sized while still managing to convey the concepts in a fairly thorough way. I will definitely be picking up Math with Bad Drawings.
Jose Fernandez
Aug 24, 2020 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book more. This book is not for people who are scared of math, but for people who already enjoy math. It gives you a humorist's approach to mathematics. I enjoyed it overall, but not something I would recommend to everyone.
Aug 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A funny, fun read. And a fascinating look at the practicality of calculus which has been an abstract and confusing subject for the last 37 years and which I still don’t understand. Fortunately higher math skills are not needed to enjoy this book - or the pictures
Jamie Showrank
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
masterful storytelling bringing complex and abstract concepts to life, and fun!
Sara Goldenberg
Dec 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
It was cute but it had a lot of numbers!!!
Michael Spence
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating read. It was like reading a comic book but thinking about deep math along the way. Being a math teacher, I appreciate the author's perspective.
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