Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World

Matt Parker. Riverhead, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-08468-7
Parker (Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension), a stand-up comedian with a penchant for math, devotes this enjoyable but off-target study to exploring all sorts of mishaps, from the trivial to the deadly, that he attributes to mathematical errors. His examples are at times gripping, such as the Air Canada flight from Montreal to Edmonton that ended in an emergency landing after the flight crew and airport personnel mistakenly calculated its fuel needs in pounds rather than kilograms. The problem is that the most serious errors Parker relates can be more readily explained by carelessness or poor planning rather than a failure to understand mathematics. The trivial, but entertaining, examples he discusses—such as English road signs misrepresenting the geometric pattern on soccer balls, or McDonald’s miscalculating the number of possible options arising from its McChoice Menu (247, not 40,312)—are actually results of mathematical blunders. Parker’s conclusion is thus not about mathematics but about quality control: “Mistakes are going to happen, and systems need to be able to... stop them from becoming disasters.” Those expecting insight into the importance of mathematical literacy from this otherwise intriguing book will be disappointed. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 09/13/2019
Release date: 01/21/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 978-0-593-08470-0
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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