cover image The Art of Logic in an Illogical World

The Art of Logic in an Illogical World

Eugenia Cheng. Basic, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5416-7248-2

Mathematician Cheng (Beyond Infinity) considers how the principles of math can be used to help define one’s personal ethos and bridge the gap between differing points of view. She explores real-life ethical and philosophical problems, like white privilege, “arbitrary standards” in education, and racially-motivated police brutality, through the lens of data-driven logical precepts and mathematical techniques. These include proofs, Venn diagrams, truth tables, flow charts, fractal trees, and more. Using these methods, Cheng argues, can help people avoid mistakes in logical thinking and recognize fallacies. However, she posits that there is more to having a constructive conversation than logic alone, stating that “we should look to engaging people’s emotions to convince them of logical arguments.” Discussing thorny issues, she says, requires a sense of “nuance,” rather than the “false promise of black and white clarity,” and a more intuitive and feelings-based approach. Cheng is largely successful in making mathematical principles and formulas accessible to a lay audience, though the occasional statement—such as “it is the contrapositive of the converse so is equivalent to the converse”—will be challenging for those unfamiliar with math jargon. Cheng’s suggestion to combine the persuasive powers of logic with emotional appeal to find common ground is original and pragmatic, particularly in these divisive times. Agent: George Lucas, InkWell Management. (Sept.)