21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 18 August 2000
"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.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 24 August 2011
It reads more like a rant than a coherent book, it's dominated by repetitive examples of usages of numbers and quotations which seem more chosen by the author to show off his knowledge than to provide enlightenment on the topic of innumeracy. The book spends several chapters claiming that innumeracy is responsible for pseudo-scientific beliefs but gives no evidence for this claim beyond a series of anecdotes, the irony of this seems to be lost on the author.
If feels much more like you're reading "The Bumper Book of Numbers" than a book on innumeracy, while it has some entertainment value, it doesn't live up to it's title.
I was hoping for a "popular non-fiction" book that talked about the causes and practical impact of innumeracy in daily life, but this isn't it.
on 31 July 2011
A short but highly entertaining book on numeracy. However it is presented in such a way that you want to read more. I suggest it is mandatory reading for all as I am well aware that most people are hazy when statistics are quoted - and in an era where dubious figures are used to gain sales or electoral success it becomes a necessity to recognise statistical lies.
Whilst I am reasonably numerate it is easy to believe that people are generally very much the same and as numerate as I. This however is not the case. Being able to manage numbers used on a day to day basis is not much use when very large numbers are concerned. This is an eye-opening start to the book and provides a glimpse of how complex life is. As an example Paulos gives the example of a human squatting down is roughly a metre in diameter. A cell is the human body is as a human body to the State of Rhode Island*. A virus within a human is as a human is to the Earth!!.
I may not have understood all the fine detail however I was not trying to learn "maths" but to get an impression of what numbers can and cannot do and on that basis it is beautifully ptiched.
*And as a reviewer I looked it up - it is 1,214 sq miles (3,140 km2)
on 27 November 2014
An excellent little book that addresses the way numbers are presented in our society, which as it turns out is in the most overblown and least helpful manner possible. Yes the revelations about numbers aren’t exactly surprising here, but they are nonetheless written about in a humorous manner and do get you thinking.
It does at times start to seem redundant; particularly when the author challenges the idea of precognition, which for this kind of book just seems like far too easy of a target. It is however a great read and recommended for anyone who cynically sighed at tabloids at some point.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
To me, the most intriguing aspect of this book was Professor Paulos's ability to take simple math concepts that I learned way back when . . . and to show how they could enrich and expand my appreciation of the world around me. It was like Alice going through the looking glass in the sequel to Alice in Wonderland. There's a lot there that I never imagined. For example, the way disease rates are often described is for those who have survived to 85 years old. If you are younger, your current probability of incidence will be much lower (possibly more than 90 percent lower). Also, you can use the way you design your questions and sample to help eliminate bias. You can also find great humor in the errors of authority figures who misquote probabilities and risks. Plus, you can answer questions that I would never have thought of (such as the likelihood of breathing in an atom that Caesar did).
If you are feeling cowed about your math ability, take heart! Most of the concepts here you can handle. For example, can you multiply two numbers together? You can answer "yes" to my question if you can do so with a calculator. If so, you can appreciate almost all of the examples in the book.
Professor Paulos has a mind that works differently and more inquisitively from mine, but I enjoyed learning how his thoughts. He thinks about topics like how long it would take dump trucks to excavate Mount Fuji, how many times a deck of cards need to be shuffled to become random, and what the Earned Run Average is for a pitcher who lasts one-third inning and gives up 5 runs. I realized that if I thought about more things like this, I would develop new perspectives on the world.
He makes a helpful attempt to create solutions so that more people can appreciate the world in a quantitative sense. What do we lose if we don't? Well, those who don't learn a little math will end up in careers that pay a lot less. Social resources will be misapplied to problems that are less serious (obscure diseases and terrorism get a lot more attention to reducing accidental deaths among young people, which is a greater danger). We will make bad resource decisions in our own lives.
I also appreciated how few people can use mathematics in creative ways to solve problems. I suspect from this experience that there's a higher level of mathematical thinking that Professor Paulos did not explain in his book that we would all benefit from learning. Where do we start? I can hardly wait to learn!