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How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking [Hardcover]

Jordan Ellenberg
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

29 May 2014
The maths we learn in school can seem like an abstract set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In fact, Jordan Ellenberg shows us, maths touches on everything we do, and a little mathematical knowledge reveals the hidden structures that lie beneath the world's messy and chaotic surface. In How Not to be Wrong, Ellenberg explores the mathematician's method of analyzing life, from the everyday to the cosmic, showing us which numbers to defend, which ones to ignore, and when to change the equation entirely. Along the way, he explains calculus in a single page, describes Gödel's theorem using only one-syllable words, and reveals how early you actually need to get to the airport.
--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press (29 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594205221
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594205224
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.5 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 453,465 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A cheery manifesto for the utility of mathematical thinking. Ellenberg's prose is a delight - informal and robust, irreverent yet serious... Full of simple yet deep insights that encourage clear thinking about many areas of modern life... How Not to Be Wrong is an impressive work of popular mathematics. It's low on formulae and numbers, and big on ideas (Alex Bellos The Guardian)

Underlying the playful stories that make this book so gloriously, surprisingly readable is a passionate argument for the core discipline of managing uncertainty in decision-making ... In short, we dismiss maths at our peril, and this book charmingly, persuasively puts us straight. If only they'd taught maths like this at school (James McConnachie Sunday Times)

There are plenty of popular maths books around, but this one strikes a particularly fine balance between rigour and accessibility. There are complex ideas here, but Ellenberg has a gift for finding real-life examples... His easy style is lucid and witty. If only all maths lessons were like this (Orlando Bird Financial Times)

The title of this wonderful book explains what it adds to the honorable genre of popular writing on mathematics. Like Lewis Carroll, George Gamow, and Martin Gardner before him, Jordan Ellenberg shows how mathematics can delight and stimulate the mind. But he also shows that mathematical thinking should be in the toolkit of every thoughtful person-of everyone who wants to avoid fallacies, superstitions, and other ways of being wrong (Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works)

Beautiful... Mr. Ellenberg's book is chock-full of gems. His easy-to-follow, humorously presented examples range from analyzing the wisdom of buying lottery tickets to the effects of chaos on weather forecasts, from tests on how Shakespeare used alliteration in his sonnets to the economic advantages of being late to flights (Wall Street Journal)

If you feel bamboozled by figures, you can think like a mathematician without actually being one. An engaging and clear explanation of some of the tricks of the trade, and how they help you spot errors of numerical reasoning in politics, religion, and finance. A gripping read! (Ian Stewart, author of Seventeen Equations that Changed the World)

Jordan Ellenberg promises to share ways of thinking that are both simple to grasp and profound in their implications, and he delivers in spades. These beautifully readable pages delight and enlighten in equal parts. Those who already love math will eat it up, and those who don't yet know how lovable math is are in for a most pleasurable surprise (Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex)

Brilliantly engaging... Ellenberg's talent for finding real-life situations that enshrine mathematical principles would be the envy of any math teacher. He presents these in fluid succession, like courses in a fine restaurant, taking care to make each insight shine through, unencumbered by jargon or notation. Part of the sheer intellectual joy of the book is watching the author leap nimbly from topic to topic... The final effect is of one enormous mosaic unified by mathematics (Washington Post)

With math as with anything else, there's smart, and then there's street smart. This book will help you be both. Fans of Freakonomics and The Signal and the Noise will love Ellenberg's surprising stories, snappy writing, and brilliant lessons in numerical savvy. How Not to Be Wrong is sharp, funny, and right (Steven Strogatz, author of The Joy of X)

Ellenberg writes with remarkable flair and humour. His deft, witty, colloquial prose often makes one laugh... So great are Jordan Ellenberg's gifts of exposition and insight that one hopes for many more books from him as excellent and entertaining as How Not To Be Wrong (Peter Pesic Times Literary Supplement) --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Jordan Ellenberg is a Professor of Mathematics at University of Wisconsin, and the 'Do the Math' columnist at Slate. He has lectured around the world on his research in number theory, and delivered one of the plenary addresses at the 2013 Joint Mathematics Meetings, the largest math conference in the world. His novel The Grasshopper King was shortlisted for the NYPL Young Lions Award, and he writes regularly for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post and Wired. A former two-time gold medalist at the International Mathematics Olympiad, Ellenberg learned algebra at the age of 8 and got a perfect score on his Math SATs (as a 12 year old). --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading by everyone! 6 July 2014
By brms
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The early chapters should be read by everyone on the planet, and all the rest by any teacher. It gives a new look at maths, and how useful it is ALL the time. I loved the section on 'the missing bullet holes' especially. It shows the purpose of leaning maths: it develops a way of thinking about the world that nothing else gives. My only criticism is that it's unashamedly written from a US perspective; all the material about the 2000 election does get a little bit tedious. And some of the latter chapters could have been edited a bit more tightly. Overall, a great book: this guy is up there with Ian Stewart as a populiser of maths. Read it!
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Everyday maths 6 July 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An interesting book showing how maths underpins many aspects of everyday life and how it can be used and abused by politicians, policy makers and the media. However, you need a fairly developed facility in mathematics to understand some of the author's worked-out numerical examples.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A wonderful romp through mathematics and its relevance to things that we touch every day. The enthusiasm that Ellenberg has for his subject, and the wonderfully clear way in which he writes, is a joy.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A reasonable book for the relatively uninformed. However believe it should have been called the "Hidden Statistics" or "Hidden Probabilities" of everyday life, for I feel the book is almost solely devoted to probabilostatistics. Personally I was disappointed as I already had a reasonable knowledge of this, but for the uninitiated it may be entertaining and enlightening.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars quite interesting 3 July 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Very focused on statistics and probability. The professional mathematician will be accustomed to many of the findings, but absolutely worth the reading. Some parts more interesting than others. The writer likes to talk a lot
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great contribution to popular thought. 9 July 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Have just finished this book and am mightily impressed. Jordan Ellenberg has written a book that informs, entertains and enlightens. Some of the ground he covers I thought I was familiar with, but he produces new gems that surprised and delighted me. I learned new and fascinating things about, for example, Daniel Ellsberg, David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon

Jordan Ellenberg is not only a (very) good mathematician; he is also a first class writer who has some important things to say and knows how to say them.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I gave it to my husband as a gift. ... 17 Aug 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I gave it to my husband as a gift. He loves the book!
What greater compliment. Also I received it very quickly.
leah x
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent purchase and excellent value. 24 Aug 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this for a present and it has given much pleasure to the recipient.
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