Review From User :
Struggling through several years of higher math in engineering school in the 1960s didn't engender a love of mathematics in me. It wasn't until years later that I began to value the beauty and elegance of mathematics. A big part of my appreciation came from mathematicians like Steven Strogatz who wrote about math for readers who appreciated the concepts but had no desire to wade into a morass of complex equations.
In The Joy of x, Strogatz has done a masterful job as our tour guide through the elements of mathematics, and he's done it without "dumbing it down" or making it just another refresher course for the subject. He presented the various mathematical elements and concepts in fresh new ways, but he clearly expected the reader to exercise their mind to understand. The reward was a new appreciation of the beauty of mathematics and for how our knowledge of the subject advanced in fits and starts over several thousand years.
The book has six parts, each presenting certain elements of mathematics: Numbers, Relationships, Shapes, Change, Data, and Frontiers. These sections represent a grand tour through the history and development of mathematics, including the practical - and some whimsical - applications. Never again will I fall into the trap of bungling the answer to the classic "If three men paint three fences in three hours, how long will it take for one man to paint one fence" (answer: 3 hours). Now I understand why a piece of paper can't be folded in half more than 7-8 times, and how a high school junior was able to beat the record using a monstrously long roll of... toilet paper! I know how Luke could guarantee himself a win over Darth Vader in a game of laser tag (hint: it involves a conic section). For young lovers, mathematics could help in finding the perfect mate (if you make a few simplistic assumptions, that is). And if the prosecution in the O.J. Simpson murder trial had understood probability and statistics, could they have gotten a conviction
As enjoyable as the first five sections of the book were, my favorite section was the last, "Frontiers," where the author covered topics including prime numbers, where I learned that no one has ever found an exact formula to find primes; group theory, which bridges the arts and sciences; topology; spherical geometry; and infinite series. This section presented some fascinating ideas. For example, group theory suggests how to get the most even wear from a mattress and confirms the old mnemonic "spin in the spring, flip in the fall." For topology, the famous MÃ¶bius strip is examined. I thought I understood the properties of a MÃ¶bius strip, but they're actually more remarkable than I would have guessed. And the most mind-blowing concept was that some infinities are larger than others. This finding, which was bitterly contested at the time, is brilliantly demonstrated with a parable named the Hilbert Hotel.
I don't always read all of the footnotes or endnotes in a book, but the endnotes in The Joy of x are not to be missed. There are dozens of links to websites and online videos that demonstrate or expound on the concepts presented in the book. Some of these were so intriguing that I spent a couple of hours being spellbound by them.
For anyone who's been disappointed by other math books written for laypersons, The Joy of x may be the book they've been hoping for. With keen insight, a light touch, and a bit of humor, author Steven Strogatz has written a splendid book for anyone who wants a broader understanding of mathematics.
Note: I read an advance reader copy of this book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.
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