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The Mathematical Brain Hardcover – 23 Apr 1999

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan (23 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0333735277
  • ISBN-13: 978-0333735275
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 16.3 x 4.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 550,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

At first glance, neuropsychologist Brian Butterworth's The Mathematical Brain might infuriate mathsphobes who insist that they just can't get a handle on numbers. Could it be true that natural selection produced brains preprogrammed with multiplication tables? Read a few pages, though, and you'll see that Professor Butterworth has more than a little sympathy for the arithmetically challenged, and indeed confesses that he too has a hard time with figures. His thesis isn't that we are born doing mathematics, but that we are born with a faculty for learning mathematics, much like our ability to learn language. He goes on to argue that unique individual differences in this faculty combine with our educational experiences to make us either lightning calculators or klutzes who can't work out the right tip.

Butterworth's style is perfect for his subject, seamlessly weaving scholarly analysis with down-to-earth humour and practical examples that will satisfy the researcher and the lay reader alike. Drawing on archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, and his own neuropsychology, he makes his case like a masterful attorney while remaining careful to leave room for scientific falsification. The history of counting is engrossing and will be new to many readers, as it has been a rather arcane field until recently--but it's just one of the many new vistas opened for the readers of What Counts. -- Rob Lightner, Amazon.com

From the Publisher

Some comments on The Mathematical Brain
'Brian Butterworth is one of the most distinguished exponents of cognitive neuroscience in Great Britain. He has had the courage and foresight to tackle a difficult and somewhat neglected field of human capability. In what is clearly a ground-breaking work on the psychology of mathematics, he has written a lucid and entertaining book with an enormous range of reference. It is a significant contribution to the history of ideas and a fascinating account of experimental work in this perplexing subject.' - Dr. Jonathan Miller

'This is a rich, fascinating and important book, which explores every sort of evidence bearing on the innateness and development of our mathematical powers. Brian Butterworth presents his themes vividly, challengingly, but always courteously and fairly, and seems to solicit the reader's own thoughts at every point. I found The Mathematical Brain a delightful read.' - Oliver Sacks

'Brian Butterworth shows that mathematics is as natural as breathing. In his fascinating book he tells us where it comes from, how it can go wrong and where is it going. The Mathematical Brain is a book that counts.' - Professor Steve Jones

'Was Einstein's brain physically different, or did he just exercise it well? One man who has thought about it more than most is Brian Butterworth, who claims in a fascinating new book that there is indeed a physical sector of the brain, the number module, which is part of our genetic inheritance.' - John Yandell, The Guardian (awarding the book four stars)

'The majority of this book is gripping stuff... The Mathematical Brain is a book to be proud of, and if I had agreed with everything in it, I would have been really worried.' - Ian Stewart (Professor of Mathematics at Warwick University), The Independent

'Broad-ranging, lucid and perceptive ... this book is likely to interest anyone who has enjoyed the case descriptions of clinical writers such as Kiawans (Toscanini's Fumble, Newton's Error) and Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars). Butterworth's work on the numerate brain is a worthy addition to this expanding canon of popular neuroscience writing.' - Kan Aitken, Scotland on Sunday


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 12 July 2001
Format: Hardcover
Some of the arguments put forward in this book I found myself unable to agree with. However, I couldn't help feeling that this was perhaps partly intended by the author, in order to stir up interest in the subject.
Unfortunately, some of the first few chapters deal too long with the same subject matter, citing similar repetitive examples reinforcing the main argument of the chapter.
However, like this review, further reading rewards the reader with more information, prompting the reader to develop his own insights. I draw attention to chapter 7, "Good and Bad at Numbers". Whilst reading this chapter, I came to the conclusion that the Distributive Law, whilst useful in pure mathematics, is "never used" in real life: not so! It is in fact a necessary part of long-multiplication, which we are all taught in primary school. Towards the end of this chapter, Butterworth makes similar conclusions.
Reading this book renewed my interest in mathematics as an art, to be admired like a painting - something which studying Pure Mathematics at University failed to do.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fascinating read if you are interested in how people learn Maths.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By MAG on 31 Jan. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I liked it a lot. It as an historical/antropologic introduction that pleased me a lot. Then it has the foundations of the study of calculus by neuropsychology. It's a book with few or none functional neuroimaging, but still very good. I definatly would recommend it.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Caroline Cameron on 7 Mar. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
great book- just what my daughter needed for bedtime reading- no , seriously- she needed it for her studies- arrived on time, what more can i say??
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3 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 April 2001
Format: Paperback
The problem with this book starts from the beginning and a finish at it's departing. While most people might pick up this book expecting an intriguing journey into the mind, what we are actually given is a crass and almost "cheesy" exploitation of the human brain. Remarks attempting to be humorous give the book a patronising and at times infuriating voice. I found that this book could be admired and respected but not enjoyed or agreed with.
The points made are personal accusations and the evidence used to enforce Butterworth's points seem to be obvious and at most times poor. Although it can appear obvious why critics would lap up the book in a frenzy of interest with many questions in their minds, it becomes apparent that Butterworth answers little of these intriguing ideas and in some places manages to trail off from very interesting points. The result is a book with little structure and a lack of information that would appeal to the curious reader rather than the mathematician.
While it could be said that Butterworth's attempt to capture the mind is one of original and almost emotive exploration, it can also become a very tedious journey with great ease. If you're willing to spend the money on such an overpriced book, be weary that your reaction will most probably be one of misunderstanding, frustration and bewilderment. For the few people that, by the title, can identify that the book is in their interests, the buy isn't so bad, even if the author's writing style is flawed and tiring.
If you have any comments to make about my review, please feel free to e-mail me. Feedback would be welcome.
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