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Coincidences, Chaos and All That Math Jazz: Making Light of Weighty Ideas [Hardcover]

Edward B Burger , Michael Starbird
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

16 Sep 2005
By starting in the familiar world and using a few simple steps of imagination, Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird sneak up on weighty mathematical ideas. The spirals on a pineapple quickly lead to the famous Fibonacci numbers and the alluring Golden Ratio, and from there to aesthetic forms in nature, art and music. The edge of a twisted strip of paper leads to an image of the shape of the universe. Playing with the notion of probability shows that surprising coincidences such as the amazing parallels between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations are sure to happen. These and other foreign and familiar mysteries are all explained with great humour and clarity in this irreverent, entertaining and readable book.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co. (16 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393059456
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393059458
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 16.7 x 24.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 677,876 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"...Burger and Starbird are such engaging communicators that they make the subject fascinating. With clear and witty explanations... they shed welcome light on a weighty subject." Publishing News "Math Jazz is, as its name suggests, a medley of absorbing mathematical diversions, from two professors who know how to hold an audience. Their maths is rooted firmly in the real world - if you include extra dimensions. Expect presidential assassinations, origami and some decidedly quirky illustrations... No maths degree needed; just add grey matter." Ben Longstaff, New Scientist" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

EDWARD B. BURGER (Williams College, Massachussetts) and MICHAEL STARBIRD (University of Texas at Austin) are award-winning professors, authors and speakers.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Obviously . . . Colored lights dance from spinning disco balls while sequined servers jiggle through the crowds plying the players with cash-loosening cocktails. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Maths and stats made easy 10 Dec 2005
Format:Hardcover
I recently purchased another math text with a view to owning a book concerning interesting issues in the area of mathematics. That title proved a little complex and probably more suited to a math expert rather than an interested outsider like myself.
Starbird and Burger's text is an excellent overview of current issues in mathematics and statistics, with some interesting insight as to how mathematics is (1) a surprisingly large part of everyday life and (2) a very interesting exercise in understanding quite complex ideas.
While the book is a slow starter, and may appear a little simplistic initally, it soon grows into a very interesting read in a variety of subject areas.
Some personal favorite subjects covered are:
* Intuition versus reality - folding paper and fitting all humankind into a box
* Making sense of data - some great stats examples of why to be careful when interpreting infomation
* A great explanation of the fourth dimension
The books illustrations are a big bonus, with some in particular making the subject matter much easier to digest (e.g. cards on a table edge, the fourth dimension)
A great book for those who love mathematics, but are perhaps stronger conceptually than thay may be in the mechanics of the subject.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book 9 Mar 2012
Format:Paperback
Amazing and interesting book for mathematicians and non mathematicians alike. Thorough explanations and well written. Funny and a very entertaining read.
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Format:Hardcover
Every time I browse in a bookshop (real or vitual) I always hope I will find a book that allows me to understand ideas that I was previously ignorant of, or that I failed to fully understand the first time around. I believe that Burger and Starbird's book definitelty falls into this exclusive catagory.

If I had to recommend a formal study guide for maths - I would go for K A Stroud's Engineering Mathematics series but for those interested in recreational maths - I've yet to find anything to better "Coincidences Chaos and All That Maths Jazz".

I believe that the authors are to be congratulated for making potentially complex mathematical ideas readily understandable to those with only a basic (or rusty) knowledge of the subject - I even managed to use this book for bedtime reading - a slot I usually reserve for novels.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to lots of topics! 27 Aug 2005
By Darren Glass - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is full of very lively and engaging explanations of a wide range of mathematics. The book consists of four parts, each of which is subdivided into three chapters. The first part is on "Understanding Uncertainty" and covers topics related to chaos, coincidences, and statistics. The second part, "Embracing Figures", deals with cryptography and patterns and has an especially nice section on `sizing up numbers' which deals with orders of magnitude and topics which should be a part of anybody's quantitative literacy. "Exploring Aesthetics" is the subject of the third part, which includes discussions of fractals and chaos and a nice introduction to the coffee cups and doughnuts of topology. They also discuss Mobius Bands and Klein Bottles, which lead nicely into the final section, which is entitled "Transcending Reality", and deals with the fourth dimension and various notions of infinity.

That is a large number of topics to cover in 288 pages, and doing a little division will tell you that many topics are treated extremely briefly. And that would probably be many readers' main criticism of the book: while it certainly gives a sampling platter of a large number of ideas throughout mathematics, it does not give you an entire meal of any of them, and before you are even done chewing one bite, the authors bring you the next topic served on a platter. While I certainly understand, and to some extent agree with, this criticism, I think that many readers will prefer their mathematics served this way, and it certainly will open the door for many of them to explore these ideas further.

Burger and Starbird take the subtitle of their book - "Making Light Out Of Weighty Matters" - quite seriously, and their exposition is filled with jokes and asides ranging from the corny to the extremely corny. I found the writing style to be fun, and I think that it would help bring in many readers who would be turned off by a more serious approach to exposition.

On the whole I think the authors succeed in their goal remarkably well: readers with little or no mathematical background will walk away from the book having learned a little bit about a lot of different mathematical topics. Hopefully, they also will have their appetites whetted for further - and deeper - learning and they will find some of the other popular math books populating their bookstore's shelves to satisfy this hunger. Most importantly, any reader of Burger and Starbird's book will realize that mathematics is a far more creative and exciting field than they may have gathered from their prior courses and experiences.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, funny, accessible approach to some of math's weightier concepts 19 Nov 2005
By David Evans - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Math can be beautiful; math can be fun. While I caught glimpses of these truths occasionally in the course of my formal education, I never really saw the light. With Burger and Starbird's delightful book, it feels like I'm staring at the sun. In their closing thoughts, they write, "Mathematics is a liberating entertainment"; and at that point, they've proven it.

The authors show us the beauty of math in quotidian objects: the number of spirals on a pineapple or in the center of a sunflower, for example, are almost always the same and always follow a particular mathematical sequence known as a Fibonacci sequence. That sequence leads us to a geometric concept known as the Golden Rectangle, which they show has been embraced by various artists and architects in paintings and buildings. There is math in beauty and there is beauty in math.

They take us on a tour of topology (an advanced region of mathematics) with friendly, informal examples such as how to remove your undies without removing your trousers. And they teach us how a simple math concept can underlie extraordinarily difficult to crack codes. They lead us into the fourth dimension and on to infinity (and then on to another infinity that's even bigger than infinity)!

The most impressive aspect of this book is that, despite the heady nature of the material, the authors relentlessly make it fun. The book is filled with both humor and clever, helpful drawings. This accessible book can remind us all that math leads into exciting territory.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing read... finally, math is shown to be entertaining! 29 Nov 2005
By Rick Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I just finished reading this book. I have to admit I was a math-fan before the read, but this book brought out all that is good in math and much more. It is the first book that explains really big ideas in mathematics without any fancy math symbols (in fact, I don't think I saw one equation in the entire book!). It really is written for the general public and I feel that anyone who picks it up will love it and will not put it down.

Now I do know some math, so I have to say that the comments of Kyle Williams that I read today are a bit strange. The sections he refers to explain well-understood and well-established mathematical ideas that have been written in very original ways. It really is correct. Honestly, I know I'll reread the book--it's really funny... I can't believe I laughed out loud a few times while reading it! You'll love it!
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Playing and Experimenting with Math 15 Sep 2005
By John Matlock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Remember how dull math was back then? We all took the required course in Algebra. We struggled through it, we got out, and most of us never thought about the subject again.

If this had been the math book we used, math might have been considered fun. It might even have taught us that we wanted to study more math. In this book the authors take some real problems, problems that might even interest one of today's teenagers and use that to discuss mathematics.

Any kid would have some interest in learning about secret messages. Probably both the boys and the girls. The boys by their very nature, the girls so that the boys couldn't read their diary. Secred messages lead to cryptography and an opportunity to study prime numbers, factoring, all kinds of things.

And topology, mobius strips which only have one side. You could make mobius strips in class and do some experiments that would be a lot more fun than going to the board to do long division.

In part it's the subject matter that makes this book so interesting. Infinity and choas theory are just plain interesting. But it's also the writing style, for instance: 'If we were to randomly kidnap 35 people off the street, two events are remarkably likely to happen. The first is we'd probably get arrested, the second ....'

Delightful book.
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A math book for the math-phobic 12 Jan 2006
By Thomas Awad - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Burger and Starbird have decided to take math and try and make it fun for their readers. They cover a vast range of topics such as why we seem to notice so many coincidences in our daily lives, why certain geometric shapes seem more aesthetically pleasing than others, and how an infinite number of housekeepers would go about cleaning an infinite number of hotel rooms.

Their tone is very smooth, often funny, and makes for a very light read. Readers who have previously been turned off by math will find the book accessible, even enjoyable. However, this accessibility comes at a price: readers looking for anything more challenging will be severely let down. I myself found that I learned virtually nothing new from the book, though I have taken mathematics and statistics courses at the university level.

Ultimately, for the general reader looking for a book that will make math pleasant, this is about as good as it gets. The authors were clearly looking to make a math book that could appeal to the greatest number of people, and I think they have succeeded. People with more in-depth knowledge of science or math should stay away.
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