Friday, January 14, 2011

Couple a Books...

Always on the lookout for good popular math books, and recently noticed "Math For Love" blog touting one I've not seen, nor even heard of. Still, feel I can't help but pass along their recommendation for what they term "the all-time best math book ever" (entitled, "Mathematics, A Human Endeavor," by Harold Jacobs):

Speaking of books, I'm about 2/3 of the way through "The Best Writing on Mathematics 2010" and won't do a full review, but will give the following blurb and a general thumbs-up for it!

Anthologies covering broad areas, like this volume, can be difficult to pull off. I most like anthologies of a single individual's writing (think of any essay compendium from Stephen Jay Gould) or anthologies on very focused topics (within math, an anthology on infinity or prime numbers or paradox, would interest me). Too often in wider-reaching volumes, and true for me here, several pieces are very interesting, several not-so-much, and of course the rest lying somewhere in-between --- but of course that experience differs for each reader depending on their own subjective interests or background (so I won't even mention which essays most appealed to me here).

The book contains around 35 varied pieces separated into 6 chapters or categories. Most of the authors here were new to me and their writing styles can differ quite a bit from one to another. I'd call the writing more cerebral than scintillating. Topic-areas addressed include computational theory, information theory, foundational mathematics, proofs, math teaching, math and the internet, intuition, aesthetics, and many more diverse areas. The variety of material is both the volume's strongpoint (something here for everyone) and possibly its weakpoint (everyone will likely find something of little interest).  I recommend the book though, in part, for that very breadth of what it attempts to sample and introduce the reader to. And I simply like the idea of a "Best of ..." volume for mathematics each year. This is a fine first go at it... one can easily imagine it getting better and better each year, so hoping sales are good enough to promote a series.

Lastly though, I'll caution that the book is not particularly for those with only a casual interest in math. You don't need to be a professional nor have a strong academic math background (though there are some technical passages), but you probably do need a fairly strong interest in mathematics to appreciate this volume.

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