...a companion blog to "Math-Frolic," specifically for interviews, book reviews, weekly-linkfests, and longer posts or commentary than usually found at the Math-Frolic site.

"Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show." ---Bertrand Russell (1907) Rob Gluck

"I have come to believe, though very reluctantly, that it [mathematics] consists of tautologies. I fear that, to a mind of sufficient intellectual power, the whole of mathematics would appear trivial, as trivial as the statement that a four-legged animal is an animal." ---Bertrand Russell (1957)

******************************************************************** Rob Gluck

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Nitpick With Publishers... but a Thumbs-Up to Matt Parker!

More from the book scene....

I briefly mentioned Matt Parker's new book (sight unseen), "Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension," in my recommendations for the Holidays, based on reviews I'd seen, but am now reading it myself and can give an even more enthusiastic thumbs-up! It's a joyful read (unless you despise puns, in which case stay far, far away!! ;-)). It's really the only "recreational math" book on my list -- I did recommend Ian Stewart's latest puzzle compendium volume, but puzzle books are a bit different from recreational math which is a broader and rarer category these days.  In fact, this is one of the very few books that I think could be mentioned in the same breath with Martin Gardner's recreational writings. While reading it I even found myself contemplating the slight similarities between the names, "Martin Gardner" and "Matt Parker"!
Anyway, most of you are likely familiar with stand-up comic/mathematician Parker from various YouTube appearances or elsewhere, and he brings the same lucid, lighthearted, but still instructive style to this book that he exhibits on the internet. His own infectious delight with math comes through both in the wide-ranging text and even his(?) simple hand-drawn illustrations.  The book's subtitle offers some hint as to just how wide-ranging it is: "A Mathematician's Journey Through Narcissistic Numbers, Optimal Dating Algorithms, at Least Two kinds of Infinity, and More."  As the book flap says, it's "a grand tour... both playful and sophisticated." I won't attempt a full review here (not even sure when I'll complete reading it), but simply highly commend it to your attention.

BUT... I do have a minor beef with it... or, perhaps more specifically with the publisher. This book is over 400 pages long and an inch-and-a-half thick, with an American retail price of $28.00 (and I wouldn't recommend reading it on an eBook reader, but that's me). A lot of folks who are already a tad phobic, or just naive, about math will be intimidated by the look/feel of this volume, as well as discouraged by the price. That means a lot of people who could benefit from reading it, and who it is partly intended for, won't purchase it... which is a shame... also means lost sales/profits for the publisher. With slightly smaller print, less white space, maybe thinner paper, and perhaps even a softcover, this volume could've been brought in well under 400 pgs. and at a lower price... and, been less imposing to readers. (I don't know if the British edition is any different from the American edition.) Even the title (probably meant to be intriguing) I suspect is a bit imposing, abstract, and maybe overly long to many, and could've been better chosen.

Anyway, I mention all this because I've seen several examples in the last couple years where a book's sales might've improved simply with a little more attention paid to certain physical elements of the volume, and greater consideration of the target audience -- and the goal should be to get these books into as many hands as possible... or at least not to scare off any more readers than needed. Matt has his own wide following, so those folks are an automatic audience, but I'm interested to see a book like this swept up by readers who have never heard of Matt Parker, or who usually avoid math books. (If I'm wrong here and the book's final features/format were actually the result of massive test-marketing and research than I'll be happy to hear about it.)
Might add, as a side-note, that I've long thought Princeton University Press (not Matt's publisher) is a publisher that generally does a great job with the physical presentation of their popular math books... maybe they've been at it longer, or specialize in it to some degree, but kudos to them for whatever the reason.
Well, I need to get back to reading Matt's volume; some reviews say the second half is even better than the first! 

[And now that I've finished reading it, I've added another short blurb about it HERE.]

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