A final book blurb before Christmas, touching upon 3 of the books I'd appended onto my longer, prior book year-end post:
a) I thought Brian Clegg’s new book, “Are Numbers Real?” would be about the Platonic/non-Platonic divide among mathematicians — a subject that interests me, though it may bore many readers! BUT, I was wrong and the volume is more an account of historical highlights in mathematics — a topic (math history) that many others find interesting, but I don’t particularly :( The second half of the book (perhaps 19th century on) however, is more interesting and meaty than the first half, and it’s a fine historical rendering, but, given other choices, I’m less inclined to recommend it as a stocking-stuffer for the Holidays, unless a math history-highlights volume is precisely what you’re looking for.
b) On-the-other-hand I’m very much enjoying Stephen Wolfram’s anecdotes and mini-bios in his new “Idea Makers,” and have no trouble recommending it for anyone who likes reading about the lives of scientists and mathematicians; a nice quick compendium, in small nuggets, of 16 varied, deceased individuals (...for those sensitive to such aspects though, I’ll warn that only one female, Ada Lovelace, is included).
c) Finally, also a BIG thumbs-up to Daniel Levitin’s latest volume, “A Field Guide to Lies” (Daniel’s earlier works on music and the brain were also good). The key here is the book’s subtitle: “Critical thinking in the information age.” Recently, I wrote about my own concerns regarding “critical thinking” and it’s important to have as much discussion/treatment of this subject as possible given the alarming degree of anti-scientific, non-critical thinking that prevails today. In fact, I'm VERY pessimistic, in the short-term, as to what can be done about societal lapses of critical thinking, but at least the discussion needs to be underway, and Levitin's treatment looks excellent. I especially like the way he has divided the topic into 3 categories (parts): 1) "Evaluating Numbers" 2) "Evaluating Words" and 3) "Evaluating the World" (about how science works).