The New York Times Book of Mathematics: More Than 100 Years of Writing by the Numbers

nyts_bookmath(3)The New York Times Book of Mathematics: More Than 100 Years of Writing by the Numbers, by Gina Kolata, ed.

My Dad got me this as a Christmas present since I’ve always been interested in math.  I was even on the Math Team in high school-Mu Alpha Theta for life!  I’m a big fan of science, math and nature writing so this was a good choice for me.

The Book of Mathematics is a fairly comprehensive book of most of the developments in math over the last several decades, as well as intriguing articles about game theory and statistics, computer programming, robots, etc.  In particular, there’s a very long article about the way some people are using game theory and complex computer programs to make it seem like the world of The Foundation is write around the corner.  It’s a really great book for an amateur mathematician, or just someone who’s a bit interested in the subject, since all of the articles are written for a popular audience.

My one complaint about the book is that since each article has to stand on its own, the book eventually gets a bit repetitive.  Every article on Fermat’s last theorem or on Andrew Wiles has to explain the theorem all over again and the history of failed attempts.  Same for the Riemannn Hypothesis, and even more basic concepts such as game theory are explained in every article that discusses game theory.  I could probably have used about half as many articles.  In particular, the shorter (less than one page) articles only had information that was already included in the longer articles.

I like to read things straight through, so the repetitiveness got to me.  This would probably be a good book for someone interested in math who wants to pick it up occasionally and flip through, reading a bit at a time and then putting it down for later.  And considering it’s size-500 pages, only in hardcover, and 6.4″x9″-it’s probably intended to stay at home for reading in spurts, not to be carted around with you.  And if used as intended, it’s a good read.



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