‘How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking’7/15/2015
Would anyone other than a mathematician pick up a book about math to read for pleasure? Perhaps not, but even those not mathematically inclined will find plenty to enjoy in “How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.” Author Jordan Ellenberg grabs the reader in the early pages as he explains his response to math students who sulkily ask how they will ever use the algebraic formulas he is trying to teach them. Many things Ellenberg, a University of Wisconsin mathematics professor, explains aren’t really fun or rewarding without hours of drill and practice. A professional soccer player doesn’t have to dribble a ball through rows of cones, but he would never have reached his level of performance if he hadn’t spent years doing just that.
From there, Ellenberg takes a multi-directional approach to a subject he finds profoundly awesome. Throughout the book, he makes an effort to translate the work of famous mathematicians into the language of amateurs. He challenges readers to approach statistical studies with common sense. How is it possible that 100 percent of Americans will be obese in 30 years? It isn’t. He demonstrates that improbable things happen all the time and calculates the odds (in this case, good) that two people in a group of 30 will have the same birthday.
Ellenberg is a lively and engaging writer who is clearly passionate about math and fairly bursting to share his enthusiasm for the beauty and elegance of his subject. CV
Sally Wisdom retired from the Des Moines Public Library in 2011 and found her dream job at Beaverdale Books soon after.