A Numerate Life: A Mathematician Explores the Vagaries of Life, His Own and Probably Yours

John Allen Paulos. Prometheus Books, $17 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-63388-118-1

In this fluid and varied memoir, Paulos (A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper), a professor of mathematics at Temple University, calls into question the accuracy of the stories people craft about others’ lives and their own. From a mathematical standpoint, he tackles subjects such as the deceptiveness of the concept of normal, the nuances that exist within one’s sense of self, and the inevitability of encountering coincidences. Delving into psychology, philosophy, statistics, and logic, Paulos reveals the far-reaching applications of mathematical thought in people’s lives as well as how they record and remember past events. Rather than adopting the pointed structure of a persuasive essay, Paulos chases down tangents and relates his own experiences, with nostalgia. The organic structure, shaped and strengthened by mathematics, paradoxically makes for a smooth yet convoluted read. Paulos skillfully mixes biography with an analysis of the accuracy (or rather inaccuracy) of biographies as a whole without sabotaging or contradicting either standpoint. By calling its own form into question, Paulos’s memoir offers an honest look into the author’s life and mind, going beyond the specifics of the math to ponder larger questions of how people perceive themselves and their lives. [em]Agent: Raphael Sagalyn, ICM Sagalyn Agency. (Nov.) [/em]