"A million dollars, a billion, a trillion, whatever. It doesn't matter as long as we do something about the problem." Does it matter, or does it not? Perhaps you can more easily visualize what jumping by six orders of magnitude means if you divide it by 10^6: "One dollar, a thousand dollars, a million..."
Or perhaps consider this: Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846 and was elected President in 1860. John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946, and was elected President in 1960. Lincoln's secretary was named Kennedy. Kennedy's secretary was named Lincoln. Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808. Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908. John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln was born in 1839. Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated Kennedy was born in 1939. There is some mysterious harmony ruling the world, isn't it?
Most likely not. Politicians' careers do follow certain patterns - people are very rarely indeed elected presidents at 19, then elected to congress at 86. Furthermore, there are very few records of assassins in the age group over 65, for instance. You also have to take into account that, taking into account US constitution, there is nil probability that Kennedy would have been elected president in 1961, or 1958. And Lincoln isn't all that uncommon as the last name, is it? And finally, we have been rather selective which facts we have included: Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 and died in 1965, while John F. Kennedy was born in 1917 and died in 1963, for instance, but along with all other facts this simply didn't fit the intended story, so it was omitted.
Throughout the book, Paulos tries to demystify such mysterious occurances by providing more or less elaborated examples, where he applies combinatorics, probability and statistics. All relatively simple concepts, but people tend to forget about them once they leave high school. Is it true that if the flipped coin has come up heads for fifteen consecutive rows, it is much more likely to come up tails on its next flip? And what about the statistics claiming that one out in eleven women will develop breast cancer, on the average?
Some sections - whining about the incompetent elementary school math teachers etc. - are too whinny for their own good, but otherwise this short booklet is a fun read. But then again, with a degree in physics, I probably already fall among the numerate. What I was very much missing, though, is a list of references from which professor Paulos has taken his examples from.