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How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

"Mathematics is the extension of common sense by other means."
This review is from: How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking (Hardcover)

I run across a lot of books that I add to my to-be-read list and then forget about until after their publication dates or I stumble upon the book in the library or bookstore. How Not to Be Wrong was initially one of those books, but it sounded so good that I found myself obsessively thinking about it and started a search for a pre-publication copy. Since I'm not a librarian, didn't win a copy via First Reads, and don't have friends at Penguin Press, it took some time and effort, but having procured a copy and read it, I can say that it was well worth my time and $6.00.

How Not to Be Wrong is a catchy title, but for me, this book is really about the subtitle, The Power of Mathematical Thinking. Ellenberg deftly explains why mathematics is important, gives the reader myriad examples applicable to our own lives, and also tells us what math can't do.

He writes, “Mathematics is the extension of common sense by other means”, and proceeds to expound upon an incredible number of interesting subjects and how mathematics can help us better understand these topics, such as obesity, economics, reproducibility, the lottery, error-correcting codes, and the existence (or not) of God. He writes in a compelling, explanatory way that I think anyone with an interest in mathematics and/or simply understanding things more completely will be able to grasp.

Ellenberg writes “Do the Math” for Slate, and it's evident in his column and this book that he knows how to explain mathematical ideas to non-mathematicians, and even more so, seems to enjoy doing so with great enthusiasm. I won't pretend that I understood everything discussed in this book, but it's such an excellent book that I also bought the hardcover (so I have an index which my pre-pub copy does not), and reread the book so I do have a much more thorough understanding. I've wished for a book like this for a long time, and I'd like to thank Jordan Ellenberg for writing it for me!

May 29, 2014 By BHB Verified Purchase

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