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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mathematics In 10 Lessons

Mathematics In 10 Lessons: The Grand Tour" by Jerry King

Just a brief review since I can't recommend this offering to a general readership, and only give it an overall "
C" rating. Browsing the volume in a bookstore it looked intriguing to me, as it touched upon many math topics of interest to me: infinity, number theory, probability, calculus, paradox, imaginary numbers, and "truth and beauty."

The book claims that it does not require much math background to be enjoyed, and several mathematicians endorse the book heartily on the back cover (although I noticed none of them are major math popularizers who's names would be readily recognized). However, I think a math novice or lay reader might have some difficulty with the material, while those more well-read in math may find the material dull or boring --- the writing is likely too dry and pedantic for a lay reader and too basic or simplistic for those more sophisticated in math. Some math fans may find the content elucidative, but I suspect they may be a small subset of all readers. Much of the material is on math underpinnings and/or proofs that may appear intuitively obvious --- and while there is some benefit in this explication, it can also be somewhat tedious. Generally speaking, the most interesting aspects of math are probably those that are counter-intuitive, and thusly in need of step-by-step rendering. I think the author here has made a very sincere attempt to bring many fundamentals of math to a general audience, but this is actually one of the most difficult tasks in all of science-writing, and so most attempts, as in this case, fall short.

A book that covers at least some of the same type material, which I found much more engaging and do strongly recommend is William Byers' 2007 volume "How Mathematicians Think."

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