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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and enjoyable read.
This is a generally intersting book, and I remember that at the time of reading it I was bascially hooked on it and kept picking it back up again. I can't really empathise with anyone that found the group theory explanation difficult because I thought that it was extremely easy, but then at the time of reading the book I was actually revising for an exam in group theory...
Published on 21 July 2004 by the great amphibian

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and convincing thesis, sloppy delivery
Although Mr. Devlin makes a good case for his assertion that the development of pattern recognition and off-line thinking preceded the development of both a maths sense and language, being two different sides of the same coin, the book's power to convince is severely compromised by the sloppy nature of some of the examples cited in the book.
No - the proof of an...
Published on 15 Jan 2001


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and convincing thesis, sloppy delivery, 15 Jan 2001
By A Customer
Although Mr. Devlin makes a good case for his assertion that the development of pattern recognition and off-line thinking preceded the development of both a maths sense and language, being two different sides of the same coin, the book's power to convince is severely compromised by the sloppy nature of some of the examples cited in the book.
No - the proof of an infinite number prime numbers does not hinge on the fact that the product of all prime numbers to some assumed largest prime, N+1, is a prime, but rather that it is either a prime, or a composite of primes that are ALL greater than the assumed largest prime P.
No - Bird's wings did NOT evolve from heat-radiating "fins", but their isomorphic nature to other species' forelimbs makes their origin crystal clear.
The book is littered with howlers such as a statement that gene replication is somehow responsible for the appearance of gender in human language syntax - no explanation or justification is given for this statement, and I doubt that a convincing one could be devised.
Nonetheless, the main thesis of the book makes sense, and is delivered convincingly, but the book could have benefited greatly from a critical review before it was publicised.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and enjoyable read., 21 July 2004
This review is from: The Maths Gene: Why Everyone has it, but most people can't use it: Why Everyone Has It, But Most People Don't Use It (Paperback)
This is a generally intersting book, and I remember that at the time of reading it I was bascially hooked on it and kept picking it back up again. I can't really empathise with anyone that found the group theory explanation difficult because I thought that it was extremely easy, but then at the time of reading the book I was actually revising for an exam in group theory amongst other subjects in maths. There are some well explained concepts in this book, (and I am thinking mainly of the scientific ones, not necessarily the mathematical ones), and it is one of those books that is fascinated with the thought experiments that can ensue from pondering on theories of evolution. Evolution is always a fun concept to start brainstorming over. Here it is about the evolution of our language and mathematical ability, and there was a theory put forward that mathematics is more or less synonymous with language.
I'm generally impressed with the book, and although I am not necessarily convinced of the central thesis, I thought that it was a very well written and interesting book. It is also exciting to read. To anyone that has a degree in maths or has read a lot of books on maths, quite a lot of the material will be recognisable as typical things to put in an introductory book. I would recommend this book though to anyone that knows nothing about maths really, (and when I say maths I mean real maths; what makes up the actual mathematical body that humans have developed; not the little arithmetical toys or tiny subsets of maths given in a very specific form in school or college), as it will probably clear up many fallaceous thoughts that you might have regarding mathematics and what mathematicians do.
I remember that there was one theory in particular that I thought an more elgant answer would be more likely for. This was concerning the statistical indication that Chinese people develop better mathematical skills relative to age when young compared to English speaking students. It is supposed that this is because of the counting system in China being such that the equivalent of say 'eleven' in Chinese would be 'one one' and 'fifty seven' would be 'five seven'. This could make arithmetic a little easier I suppose, but I thought it more obvious that the reason Chinese students are better at maths than English speaking students for example, is that the Chinese language is a lot more complex to learn and the grammar is more difficult than English grammar, and hence the Chinese children will have developed the kind of quickness as these sort of thinking abilities needed for arithmetic a lot more fully than English speaking students, (such as American or English).
Anyway, I would recommend this book for mathematicians if they are interested in evolution of language and of mathematics, and I would recommend it as a generally interesting non-fiction read. Its nice to hear fairly fresh theories such as the thesis of this book being proposed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gossip. Is this really it?, 20 Dec 2000
This is a book from a well-known and respected popular science writer, Professor Keith Devlin, on a very intriguing question: how and why did people acquire the skill of doing mathematics. Unfortunately, many readers will probably still be looking for more after finishing this one.
Devlin starts with our sense for numbers. Not all numbers are the same: we instantly recognize one or two objects; beyond that number, we have to count them. But counting itself is not yet mathematics. So what is mathematics? Devlin fancies the answer that it is a science of patterns, and spends a whole chapter on what he really means by the extended concept of pattern. In order to describe abstract patterns, mathematics has developed a specialized language. So is it possible to learn anything about mathematics from what the linguists have already learned about the generalized structural grammar, underlying every known language? How did the full language - with grammar - evolve at all from the "momma hungry" protolanguage? And why?
The above arguments pose a grandiose ouverture for Devlin's thesis, which we are finally ready for in the second-but-last chapter: in order to be able to plan and predict, human ancestors have some 300.000 years ago developed what Devlin calls "off-line" thinking. With off-line thinking came grammar and language. Language is, and always was, used predominantly to build the "team spirit" among humans, or, with other words, for gossip. Mathematicians can avoid one unnecessary level of abstractions if they visualize the entities they are working with. So for them, doing mathematics is like gossiping. Well, sort of.
And that is it. The book is actually quite a pleasant read, with lots of interesting stuff. On the other hands, Devlin drags us on and around general linguistics and the evolution of speech and God knows what else before getting to the promised topic. The final thesis comes then rather unculminating. On the plus side, Devlin is fair at citing books and articles he had learned from. I wish I could say the same about some other popular science authors.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Explaining mathematics in an easy to understand way!, 5 April 2002
This review is from: The Maths Gene: Why Everyone has it, but most people can't use it: Why Everyone Has It, But Most People Don't Use It (Paperback)
This superb book details how we aquire our mathematics skills. It looks back at our ancestors to see how mathematics came about. Keith Devlin tries to prove that we all have the capability to 'do' mathematics but some of us find it difficult to access this ability. He goes on to explain how babies and animals have basic number skills too. Keith Devlin has written this book in an easy to understand fashion. He explains concepts clearly and assimilates them to everyday activities and experiences.
An excellent book for anyone studying mathematics or even those who are just interested in how we aquired our mathematical abilities!!
I suggest that the only way to truly test this book is to read it for yourself. I am sure the concepts he explains will keep you fascinated!!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Keith Devlin: The Math Gene, 9 Sep 2010
I am still in the process of reading this book. There is a lot of fascinating material on the counting ability of infants and animals, brain function and evolution.
Hence I am progressing slowly.
This book answers many questions about the way mathematicians think.
Professor Devlin is a lucid writer on science and a brilliant communicator.
Encouraged by this book, I have watched some of his talks on YouTube. Wonderful.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Help Wanted, 11 Sep 2002
This review is from: The Maths Gene: Why Everyone has it, but most people can't use it: Why Everyone Has It, But Most People Don't Use It (Paperback)
As a hobby reader of mathematics, I was really looking forward to this book. It started well - everything seemed pretty sensible and well grounded. Before long though, weak reasoning and leaps of faith had me questioning many of Devlin's assertions. Not because I felt that he didn't know his material, more because he failed to draw closed the net around his positions. He also has a disconcerting style of posing everything as a question, then often stating that the answer will become clear at a later point. By the end of the book, it was clear that a) there is no math's gene (as Devlin says in the first chapter) b) the book is about linguistics and the acquisition of language, not mathematics, and c) if you're looking for the good oil on evolution, you're better off with 'The Moral Animal'. Overall? Disappointing.
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4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't talk to me like that, 14 Jan 2003
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This review is from: The Maths Gene: Why Everyone has it, but most people can't use it: Why Everyone Has It, But Most People Don't Use It (Paperback)
To write a book in the first person, especially one that is non-fiction is both arrogant and opinionated, but to talk down to your readers is unforgivable. I am not a mathematician and after reading everything Mr. Devlin has presented, I feel I'd prefer never to acquire mathematical skill in the way he describes. It seems such an elite skill to possess. The book promised a lot and delivered little. Each chapter in his "college" style thesis was a mere repetition of what has gone before. A more critical editor of the material was required. I was releived to begin with because he highlighted the common mistakes and assumptions made in "arithmetic". This was indeed hihgly insightful. Do you know where he lost his audience completely? When he started his inpenetrable chapter on "Groups". Was this a deliberate tease to show that only mathematicians can ever truly understand this stuff? It was presented with very little regard for the reader. No proper explanation and certainly know follow-up to it. He even urges the reader to skip the chapter which leades me to the question: what is the relevance of the chapter to the whole book? Not explained. And then to spend two thirds of the book on linguistics and dismissing key theories and providing no real proof for his own assumptions, I felt betrayed and dismayed that the book was ever published. Don't read this book. The back cover says one thing but the book doesn't add up to it!
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