Friday, May 12, 2017

A Couple of Books I Won’t Be Reading and One I Will

Well, that’s an exaggeration, but 2 books I recently received from Princeton University Press I at least won’t be reading from cover-to-cover for different reasons:

1)  “Power Up” from Matthew Lane (subtitled, “Unlocking the mathematics in video games”), is, obviously, focused on video games; a topic that simply has never held much interest for me (beyond Pong and Space Invaders... seriously, by Pac-Man I was already bored with them) — have never quite understood their attraction! Having said that, I’ve been leafing randomly through this volume, reading miscellaneous paragraphs, and the writing is lively, engaging, and interesting -- I can see how the book will hold the attention of all the folks who are drawn to video games.  As the publicity sheet for the book says the game world is “steeped in mathematics” and I’m sure plenty will find this volume to offer a whole new level of appreciation for the gaming experience. As best I can tell, the approach is not so much to use math to explain or describe video games, as to use video games as a stepping stone to discuss interesting mathematics.
With all that said I do have a big beef with the book... Princeton U. Press's overall presentation is as usual, beautiful with a major exception: the book is entirely in an oddball (“Archer Book”) font that I find aesthetically very annoying and unappealing! (and I'm not very picky about fonts) — I suspect there is some reason, I’m unaware of, related to video games, that this font was used (feel free to explain it in the comments if you know), but I found the font very off-putting.

2)  Many are likely familiar with Adrian Banner's somewhat classic “The Calculus Lifesaver” and now Princeton is out with a similar tome, “The Probability Lifesaver” by Steven Williams of Williams College — certainly more of a textbook or adjunct text in 700+ pages than a “popular” math read. But of course probability is a very hot and fascinating topic these days, and this comprehensive treatment seems to cover plenty of topics — again, I won’t be reading it cover-to-cover, but picking out sections to read as interest directs over time.
To my eyes it looks like an excellent addition to the math shelf, but I’m no expert on the tricky area of probability (and statistics, in general, is controversial these days), so one small concern I have is that of the many publicity blurbs out for for this text, none seem to be from the many prominent recognizable names in statistics; not sure why there is a lack of endorsements from “big” names (it may mean nothing, but I have seen cases where that’s not a good sign). If statistics IS your field and you've seen this volume, feel free to weigh in on it below. Looks marvelous to my naive eyes, but what do I know!

3)  Finally, the book I am looking forward to reading, but don’t know how much mathematical content is included, is “A Man For All Markets” by and about Edward Thorp, a famous (and self-made rich) Wall Street trader AND mathematics professor. This book should be interesting as a bio, and I’m presuming there will also be interesting financial math and probability along the way as well.

If anyone is familiar with any of these 3 books feel free to comment in greater detail than I have done, below, with your own plusses or minuses.

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