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Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences
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Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  4,090 ratings  ·  301 reviews
In this brilliantly entertaining book, Paulos argues that our inability to deal rationally with large numbers or their probabilities results in misinformed, vulnerable attitudes. He shows how to combat this condition.
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published February 1st 1989 by Hill and Wang (first published 1988)
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Mehdi Sheikh By mathematical probability by the time you get to 82-85 people the probability of two people sharing a birthday is 100%. But the statement posted is…moreBy mathematical probability by the time you get to 82-85 people the probability of two people sharing a birthday is 100%. But the statement posted is not about mathematical probability but about logical certainty. While the probability is very small it could still be possible that 366 people all have a different birthday in a year with 366 days, but once you add one more person that probability of a new person having a unique birthday disappears because there are no more available days.(less)
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3.81  · 
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May 23, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: math
Most of the book is a collection of examples commonly seen in other pop math books: how a particular gambling game or con trick lets the house win most of the time; tricky things about Bayes' Theorem and Simpson's Paradox; how raising the price by 40% and then lowering the new price by 40% does not give you back the original price; the difference between statistical correlation and causation; etc.

I hoped the book would be an in-depth look at where innumeracy stems from and how to prevent it. The
Jul 09, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
On page 94, Paulos bemoans the fact that people attribute combination to causation: "...when people reason that if X cures Y, then lack of X must cause Y."

But just a few pages later, on 108, he states: "In short, there is an obvious connection between innumeracy and the poor mathematical education received by so many people. [...] Still, it's not the whole story, since there are many quite numerate people who have had little formal schooling."

For those who are only as bright (or dim) as Paulos
Let's say there was a <1% chance that I would buy an unknown book after stumbling randomly upon it on a bargain shelf (something I haven't done in almost a decade after perusing dozens of such shelves in that time), and then a 30% chance that I would then like that book (giving myself some credit for taste while taking into account the vast quantities of extant crap). Those are two dependent scenarios, meaning I'd have to multiply them to get the likelihood that I ever might have liked this b ...more
Feb 24, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Easy book to read that addresses mathematical illiteracy or "Inumeracy." Paulos offers persuasive arguments for increasing math literacy with fun anecdotes & fascinating statistics.
Aug 04, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
An easy little read about mathematical illiteracy.

The author, it is eventually revealed, was a mathematical prodigy as a child, and still takes immense pleasure in doing things like deftly computing the volume of all the blood in the world in terms of how deep it would fill Central Park, or how fast human hair grows in miles per hour. He seems genuinely surprised that there might be people for whom these questions are not interesting.

He also has some ideas for improving the state of mathematica
Never judge a book by its cover or, in this case, by its title. The author purports to explain numerical illiteracy ("innumeracy") and the consequences of it. However, he skates from there to explaining formal logic, probability theory, estimations, critiques of psuedo-science, and then to the reasons why so many people just don't like math. Although his points are valid, and at times slyly humorous, the tone is at times condescending and and self-pitying. I wanted to like this book but the open ...more
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Sitting in an independent coffe shop, sipping a latte and listening to the soundtrack to The Phantom Menace or Taylor Swift’s 1989 is a great way to devour John Allen Paulos’s Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences.

I picked up this short volume after hearing it repeatedly praised by Matt Dillahunty—a speaker whose ability to cut through bullshit is legendary—so I had some pretty high expectations.

Innumeracy is a quick read, and Paulos takes aim at poor education, poor media pre
I already believe that numbers are beautiful and just make sense but it's always nice to read a book that agrees with you. The author does a great job of putting perhaps non-intuitive concepts in perspective. (For example, when describing magnitude he says, a million seconds is about eleven and a half days, but a billion seconds is almost thirty-two years! I had never thought of it quite like that.) He also does a great job pointing out the negative impact of innumeracy on society in general - h ...more
Aug 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: You
Quick, essential reading.

While it hasn't completely killed my interest in coincidences, it tried valiantly to do so. The author's anger at the popularity of pseudosciences (astrology, mediums, fortune-telling, etc.) comes across pretty clearly, and it's hard not to agree with him. In fact... it's impossible to disagree with him in certain sections, since he's using cold, hard mathematics. (He'd hate that I used the adjective 'cold,' there...)

I don't have much more to say beyond the fact that thi
May 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book speaks for itself. I mean, people should understand mathematics beyond, like, knowing how many shoes they need for how many feet they have.
As a math teacher, I think about the subject of societal constructs against math a lot. I think about how often phrases like: "I gave up on math a long time ago," "I was never good at math," "I don't need any math for what I do," or "What's so important about insert precalculus topic here anyway" can be uttered with less backlash than saying Shakespeare is hard or various other difficult reads (those tend to get arguments of, "but it's worth it in the end" or similar). So I picked up this book ...more
Apr 15, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There are some good ideas and points in here. If part of the book's purpose is to raise the comfort level of the reader with certain concepts, then there are probably too many places where it throws in a formula too quickly, causing less numerate minds to glance away.

I do appreciate the author's clear love of math, and there are several good examples. There are also things he misses. For example, one of the sections focuses on normal fluctuations, like how one shooter in a basketball game may ha
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this when first published in the late 80s and was then struck by how important the ideas in were to everyone. I'd not thought of the book again until reading Factfulness by Rosling. Although sometimes a bit of a slog and with a few dated references, Innumeracy remains a must-read for anyone who values rational thinking about the world around them.
Dec 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gleeful at times.
Innumeracy is a great book for the era of Ebola panic (even if it is quite dated). Paulos expounds on mathematical concepts as they relate to everyday life - the true nature of particular risks, gambling chances, and understanding extremely large and small numbers. There are a lot of mathematical puzzles (always fun) and real-world examples of the (mis)application of seemingly abstract concepts. There's also some overlap with Thinking, Fast and Slow regarding cognitive blocks to thinking mathema ...more
Charles Eliot
In "Innumeracy", John Allen Paulos argues that the level of mathematical illiteracy in the United States is shocking and unacceptable, that innumeracy has real and pernicious negative effects, and that it is promoted by poor teaching.

It's a pity: I share Paulos's love for mathematics, and I agree with the message of "Innumeracy", but I find his approach glib and pompous. At one point he says he finds it hard to write at length, preferring brevity and concision. That's all well and good, but it c
Ken Ransom
Reading Innumeracy is probably most fun for people who already understand 95% of the math Paulos uses. Plus a lot of the examples aren't from current events despite what the back cover says.

I bet a lot of his stated intended audience--innumerates--aren't making it past the first chapter, let alone getting all the way to the end. And the book is only 135 pages.

But if the reader will stick with it, or maybe skip over sections not understood, it's worth the time spent reading. Hey, it's only 135 p
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I take his point, as a largely innumerate person, but the book reads as very dated (it is almost 30 years old now) and his arrogant indignation at everyone who isn't a mathematician is off-putting. There are better, kinder math books. Surely.
Mark Tuminello
Mar 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An accessible, interesting read about the difficulty many people have truly understanding the difference between very large numbers. We have a handle on what a thousand really means, but what is the difference between a billion and a trillion? Do they feel kind of the same to you? If so, this book could potentially blow your mind.
Jim Razinha
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
[Update on 9/20/15 Reread: upgrading to five stars and changing "Good" to "Excellent"] Excellent, brief intro to probability, common fallacies of statistical correlation, absurdities of astrology, numerology, and other pseudosciences.
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
Innumeracy is defined as 'unfamiliar with mathematical concepts and methods; unable to use mathematics; not numerate' {as per}.

I had been reading an article a couple months ago about what could be basically called the mathematical illiteracy of our society. The difficulty that not only our youth are experiencing when dealing with any but the most basic of math skills but how this has been an on-going problem for decades. That dealing with numbers strikes terror in the minds of peo
Jerry Smith
Quick, easy read despite the fact that this is essentially a book about mathematics, albeit the high levels of innumeracy that inflict most of our thoughts and discourse. I am totally on board with this and am probably one of the people referred to in the early pages here i.e. I hated maths at school and although I strive for an understanding of probability and stats in everyday thinking, anything complex hurts my brain somewhat.

However, I think that Paulos is spot on here. Although written a co
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think perhaps the best part of this book is that it exists - the very concept of innumeracy, just hearing the word, is one of those things that blows a hole wide open in your mind. The author does a great job of explaining how and why math is important and how we can suffer without a good understanding of it. The writing style is casual and engaging, and the examples are relevant and interesting.

I have a few relatively minor complaints, which keep it from being 5 stars, but don't keep it from
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read Jordan Ellenberg's How Not to be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking immediately before reading Innumeracy and there's a fair amount of overlap between the two. They both mention or discuss, for example, the birthday problem (why it only takes 23 people to have a 50% chance of two of them sharing a birthday), the "Baltimore stockbroker" scam, whether there's really such a thing as a hot hand in basketball, expected value (how much is that lottery ticket expected to be worth?), the l ...more
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Innumeracy is a book about how to not be ignorant of numbers and math. It focuses on statistics, as they are more prominent in our world than other types of math. The book starts off by explaining what it means to be innumerate. It then goes on to give examples of “innumerates.” Afterwards, it develops the idea of mathematical ignorance, and how it pervades the everyday life of most people. It talks about how people wrongly wear it as a badge of honor. It then goes on to explain how to not be i ...more
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of countless books written for those who struggle dealing with numbers in any form. What distinguishes this from other such literature is that Paulos attempts top diagnose the root cause. His assessments are reasonable (taught as an abstract not applicable subject, the teachers don't understand it, kids don't learn it as puzzles), and I've made similar observations over my lifetime.

Despite an occasional dose of dated references (gotta do something about that Strategic Defense Initiative) and
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Weighing in at 135 pages, the interesting-things-learned-per-page of this title is exceedingly high. There are simple examples to explain mathematical concepts (such as the difference between combination and permutation). There are insightful illustrations of how mathematics can save money (how many tests would you need to run on a room of 50 people to discover the one person with a disease? How many tests to find out if *anyone* in the room had the disease? The answers are surprising). How much ...more
Mohammed Ghoul
Apr 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Innumeracy is the norm rather than the exception, especially so in countries with a crappy educational system, the average person (even the highly educated ones) is literally scared of mathematics. This off course results in people easily falling for pseudoscience and believing BS like horoscopes etc. this is in reality only a small part of the gigantean underlining problem of scientific illiteracy. This book is one my favorites for addressing this subject and simply demonstrating very useful ma ...more
Jack Binzer
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was hoping for a sort of social scientific analysis of the societal effects that mathematical illiteracy perpetuates, and there is some of that to an extent, but about 60% of the book is a lot of hypothetical scenarios about chance and probability. Also, Paulos focuses overwhelmingly on statistics, and doesn't mention any benefits of being good at algebra, calculus, geometry, fractals, etc. which I was hoping that the book would include.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading this book very much and it
Joe Koelsch
This book, like “How Not to be Wrong,” sets out to describe some of the most common examples of innumeracy and their consequences. Each of these examples is presented with real-world context that adds a richness to the mathematical ideas. However, the narrative structure of the book often falls flat, leaving only the mathematical concept to engage the reader. While most is presented in a way that a layperson can grasp, there are whole sections that devolve into esoterica. The effect, like a web ...more
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