The Universe And The Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty

K. C. Cole, Author
K. C. Cole, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $22 (224p) ISBN 978-0-15-100323-5
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
The mathematical gulf separating our everyday lives from the mysteries of space-time is largely illusory, contends Cole, an L.A. Times science writer. Demonstrating with vivid examples why the system used to choose Academy Award nominees is fairer than the one-person/one-vote used to elect most of our politicians, and why science is better at predicting when a total solar eclipse will occur in the next century than whether we'll have rain five days from now, Cole leads readers through the mathematical concepts that apply equally well to the behavior of planetary bodies and our own. While the shelves are crowded with such books, Cole's stands out for relying less than most on armchair thought experiments. She takes readers to the top of Mount Wilson to gaze through a recently refurbished Hubble Telescope; shows why many predictions get foiled by the systems in which we embed math, rather than by math itself; and demonstrates the role that scale plays in evolutionary possibility: ""An ant-size person could never write a book, because the keys to an ant-size typewriter would stick together."" Cole's arguments occasionally meander, but that doesn't detract from the book's overall clarity and balance, including a well-chosen, succinct list of suggested readings. From the symmetry of spheres to altruism, Cole shows that truth does indeed add up to beauty, and beauty to truth. (Jan.)
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