Review – How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

I am one of those fortunate individuals who cherishes and loves Mathematics, in all its forms. But, I know, a lot of people for whom the Maths is a dreaded specter.

Why is that so? Inevitably, this is a problem that arises from the way the subject has been taught. And this is what the book tries to dispel. This book takes us behind the numbers, equations, theories and abstruse concepts to show the practical applications of whatever we have been taught. Along the way, the history of these various ideas are explained as are various anecdotes, which are informative and amusing.

This book is written along similar lines to Metamagical Themas and GEB, while not at the same level. Think of this book as a stepping stone to the fore mentioned books.

The book deals with concepts that we have been taught in our 11th/12th & Graduation. The author doesn’t really dumb down the concepts – this means that while they have been explained well,  the reader really has to concentrate while reading the book.

Another facet of this book which made me love it were the lovely quotes from history. A couple of examples are below.

When talking about the romantic notion of how mathematicians are portrayed as genius, loner types, the author quotes Mark Twain – “It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others.”

When talking about the need to focus on practical applications, the author quotes Theodore Roosevelt –

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

The author, Jordan Ellenberg, is a mathematical prodigy. He has deftly weaved the concepts with good writing to bring out the inherent joy in maths.

People interested in Big Data have to definitely read this book. For those who hated mathematics when growing up and now want to figure out what the fuss is all about and those who just want to enjoy a good read, this book is brilliant.

Recommendation

Read this book.

 In addition to the items mentioned in the introduction, this book delves deeply into a lot of varied fields ranging from religion to logic, from history to the future, from politics to law etc. It covers a lot of topics like statistics, geometry (Euclidean & Non-Euclidean), calculus, probability, algebra, number theory etc.

Links

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amazon