...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

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Year In Books

(via WikiMediaCommons)

Reviewing another great year in popular math! Your mileage may vary....
Which is always my way of warning that my picks for favorite reads of the year won't necessarily suit your own interests/tastes. With that said...

Will start with a few miscellaneous notes:

a) If you enjoy Tyler Vigen's humorous "Spurious Correlations" website (a sort of parody of statistical correlations) you can get a hardback version of it in his book of the same title.

b) Two books worth noting that I didn't read this year:

"Birth of a Theorem" by Fields Medalist Cedric Villani got some mixed reviews, some of which though were very positive.

"The Fascinating World of Graph Theory" (Benjamin, Chartrand, Zhang) -- a mini-popular-text on graph theory, probably for a narrower audience than other books here, but worth a mention.

I'll also note that Princeton University Press has just released the 700-page (and pricey) "Leonhard Euler: Mathematical Genius in the Enlightenment" by Ronald Calinger, and additionally from Princeton, this year's volume of "The Best Writing On Mathematics 2015" is due out in Jan. 2016.

c)  A 2014 book that came out in paperback this year, and I loved, was Gary Smith's "Standard Deviations," another in the growing genre of statistics treatments for the masses.

d)  Matthew Watkins' older trilogy on prime numbers was re-published this year by Liberalis Books; I'd still like to see these wonderful British volumes get WIDER circulation.

Now for my year's Top 10 list for a general audience, starting with numbers 4 through 10, without annotation:

4.  "The Proof and the Pudding" by Jim Henle

5. "Problem-solving Strategies In Mathematics" by Alfred Posamentier and Stephen Krulik

6. "Professor Stewart's Incredible Numbers" by Ian Stewart 

7.  "Numbers: Their Tales, Types, and Treasures"  Alfred Posamentier and Bernd Thaller

8. tie: "How To Bake Pi" (American title) by Eugenia Cheng
          "A Numerate Life" by John Allen Paulos

10. "The Magic of Math" by Arthur Benjamin

...and on to my favorite three:

I enjoy biographies but never expected a biography to ascend as my favorite popular math book in any given year... Siobhan Roberts proved me wrong. Her delicious account of John Conway, "Genius At Play," IS my favorite volume of 2015. Roberts' book follows a fascinating character, but also includes actual, interesting math along the way. Biographies of mathematicians of course, are rare, and Roberts paints an engaging portrait of her subject, while not shying away from his human warts and foibles (as I wrote at the time, "I didn't want this book about math, and one man's humanity and passion, to end"). Just a super read from beginning to end! (By the way, if you missed this recent Guardian podcast with Conway and Roberts, it's a great listen too.)

"Genius At Play" nudges out Michael Harris's eclectic, provocative, (almost oddball) "Mathematics Without Apologies," which I thought I'd relish more on a second reading, but actually fell slightly flatter on the re-read. Harris, more than any mathematician I've read, has a knack for saying things that sound interesting, but that are just vague or ambiguous enough to leave one uncertain of what his exact point is. That sounds like a criticism, but in some perverse way it makes his writing all the more thought-provoking and engaging... and good enough to just edge out my number 3 pick, Marc Chamberland's "Single Digits," a fabulous compendium of math examples, more geared to mathematicians than general readers. Three VERY different, very wonderful books for the math gourmet! They won't suit everyone's taste, but I really enjoyed ALL of these!

Left off of this personal list are dozens of other math books from the year that I either didn't look at or that simply didn't 'ring my chimes.' But if one of them did 'ring YOUR math chimes' feel free to give it a plug in the comments below as a possible stocking-stuffer in the weeks ahead.


Finally, if I combine my 3 favorite books from each of the last three years, and then throw in Strogatz's "The Joy of X" (my favorite from 2012), you have a nice eclectic 10-book-list for a mini-popular-math library. So in addition to the above three:

From 2014:

"How Not To Be Wrong" (Jordan Ellenberg)
"Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension"  (Matt Parker)
"The Grapes of Math"  (Alex Bellos)

From 2013:

"The Outer Limits of Reason (Noson Yanofsky)
"Chaotic Fishponds and Mirror Universes (Richard Elwes)
"Love and Math"  (Ed Frenkel)


"The Joy of X"  (Steven Strogatz)

Anyway, to all the readers out there... bon appetit and happy holiday shopping for your math friends (everyone wants math books for Christmas, right ;-) Can't wait to see what 2016 has in (book)store(s) for us.

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