How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

Jordan Ellenberg. Penguin Press, $27.95 (480p) ISBN 978-1-59420-522-4
In this wry, accessible, and entertaining exploration of everyday math, Ellenberg, professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, shows readers how “knowing mathematics is like wearing a pair of X-ray specs” that reveal the hidden structure of the world. Too often, mathematics is taught as a “long list of rules” without any real-world application. Ellenberg stresses that even the most complex math is based on common sense and then proves it with examples that take the abstract and make it real. Lines and curves provide the foundation for explorations of the Affordable Care Act and the infamous Laffer curve (with a Ferris Bueller shout-out). The ancient and “extremely weird” Pythagoreans help us calculate the area of a tuna fish sandwich. The search for patterns in large, seemingly random data leads to a fascinating discussions of lotteries and of why “reading” sheep entrails isn’t a good way to predict stock prices. From discussing the difference between correlation and causation, to how companies use big data to predict your interests and preferences, Ellenberg finds the common-sense math at work in the everyday world, and his vivid examples and clear descriptions show how “math is woven into the way we reason.” Agent: Jay Mandel, William Morris Endeavor. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/21/2014
Release date: 06/03/2014
Paperback - 480 pages - 978-0-14-312753-6
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