I found Professor Paulos's book, Innumeracy, to be a delightful expression of the key elements of mathematical ignorance that can be harmful, along with many new ways to see and think about the world around. You can imagine how much more pleased I was to find that A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper is an improvement over that valuable book. Every editor and newspaper writer should be required to read and apply this book before beginning their careers. Almost all those who love the news will find some new appreciation for how it could be better reported. Those who will benefit most are those with the least amount of background in math, logic and psychology. Although the subjects are often related to math, if you can multiple two numbers together using a calculator you will probably understand almost all of the sections. If you already know math well, this book will probably only provide amusement in isolated examples and you may not find it has enough new to really educate you. Most of the points are regularly treated in the mathematics literature.
In the introduction, Professor Paulos reveals a long and abiding love for newspapers. And he reads a lot of them. He subscribes to the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times, skims the Wall Street Journal and the Philadelphia Daily News, and occasionally looks at USA Today (he likes weather maps in color on occasion), the Washington Post, the suburban Ambler Gazette, the Bar Harbor Times, the local paper of any city he is in, and the tabloids.
This knowledge is reflected in the book's structure. There are four sections, reflecting the typical four section format of many weekday papers. The four sections are:
(1) Politics, Economics and the Nation
(2) Local, Business and Social Issues
(3) Lifestyle, Spin and Soft News
(4) Science, Medicine and the Environment
Then, within each section, he uses a headline and subtitle for each subsection to capture the essence of a story type that we have all read lots of. For example, "Lani 'Quota Queen' Guinier: Voting, Power, and Mathematics" is the subsection that looks at how different ways of compiling votes would affect the power of individual interest groups and minorities. "SAT Top Quartile Score Declines: Correlation, Prediction and Improvement" examines all of those many stories we read about the SAT and what they really mean. Each subsection tends to run from 2-5 pages. As a result, this book can be read in 10 minute intervals very comfortably. In that sense, it's an ideal book for commuters who've finished reading their daily paper and still have more time on their hands.
This book covers many of the same topics as Innumeracy. I suggest that if you feel you really understand that subject that you skip the relevant subsection here unless you find the treatment amusing in its opening lines. Professor Paulos tends to repeat examples from Innumeracy and while that makes the book easier to understand, the repetition can dull your interest.
I found the book to be most appealing when it pointed out the fundamental absurdity of some approach that is commonly used now. One of the most powerful examples involved pointing out that putting one pint of toxic material into the ocean would create a frequency of molecules in the entire ocean that would sound scary to anyone, even though the material would be extremely dilute. Naturally, as an author, I was in complete agreement with his point about the too infrequent reviewing of new books (except on Amazon.com, of course!). My mind was also expanded by the problem of whether Moslems should pray towards Mecca straight through the Earth or as though they were traveling over the top of the Earth.
You probably won't agree with all of his solutions . . . or even think that all of the problems he cites are important ones. But you'll find yourself amused and informed more often than not. That's better than you can expect from all but a tiny fraction of nonfiction books. Take a peek at "Recession Forecast If Steps Not Taken" as a test of your potential interest in the book. This subsection explores chaos theory and why it's not possible to forecast accurately all of the things that people regularly claim to forecast (such as the weather, the economy and many social trends).
After you finish the book, I suggest that you pick out a newspaper article that falls into some of these errors . . . and write a letter to the editor suggesting how it could have been improved. If we all did that even once a year, newspaper reporting would soon improve and we would all be better informed.