Most helpful positive review
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Superb! And especially for teachers!
on 16 March 2014
I spotted this book in 'The Works' and it looked as if it might have promise. Having quickly flicked through it I put it back on the rack. I am always looking for books that might give some ideas for the classroom, but was a little reluctant to buy yet another 'popular' maths book that failed to deliver; so many of them are yet another tour through numbers et al, from the Babylonians to Hilbert's Hotel, trying desperately to convince the reader that it is all so interesting and fun ...yawn, zzzzzzzzzzz. Why so many of these 'popular' maths books manage to make the subject so incredibly boring is beyond me; what is the point of boring the very audience one has decided to inspire? But when I returned to 'The Works' the next time I walked past (and unable to resist the magnetic pull of a bookshop)I had another browse. The endorsement by Alex Bellos, author of the captivating "Alex's Adventures in Wonderland" clinched it for me; if it was anywhere near as good, it was going to be worth the few discounted pounds that 'The Works' were asking. It was worth a punt.
And it turned out to be good; very, very good. I really recommend it to anyone with an interest in mathematics. It's knowledgeable and fun. Yes, it does talk about the Babylonians and Hilbert's Hotel, but I suppose in a book subtitled 'A guided tour of mathematics from one to infinity', they were bound to crop up! But where this book really wins is that it doesn't try to cover everything and succeed in actually covering very little.
Steven Strogatz is the Schurman Professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University, and (according to the blurb) is one of the world's mostly highly cited mathematicians. This could be a guarantee of uninspired writing BUT it certainly isn't in this case. Strogatz's writing is lucid and an absolute joy to read.
The book is divided into six sections: Numbers, Relationships, Shapes, Change, Data and Frontiers, and is a fun-filled romp through selected aspects of each.
There are two great strengths to the book which make it really stand out as a resource book for secondary mathematics educators. Firstly, what he writes about is connected to the real world by numerous concrete examples, and secondly, there are no less than 45 final pages of expansions, references and web links, plus an index (hurrah!). In fact, I found these last 45 pages some of the best in the book! For example, in the text it's mentioned that 'Every year about a million American students take calculus'... this is where most books would leave it. Not Strogatz. Quite rightly, he references this, and we can then go and read "The crisis of calculus" if we wish. But it isn't just simple references that make the last 45 pages a joy; for example we have a fascinating expansion on 'the solid common to two identical cylinders' - the Steinmetz solid, and also learn that the Romans and Normans were familiar with it in the design of intersecting vaults... and we are referred to various internet links to take things further if we're interested. From a teaching point of view, these last 45 pages are an absolute goldmine. For those of you who haven't come across it before, and I certainly hadn't, do have a quick listen to the recorded conversation between a George Vaccaro and customer services at Verizon (Google/Youtube it!). If ever there was an argument for making sure that everyone understands basic arithmetic, this is it!!
And Google 'pagerank'? Thought you knew what 'page' stands for? If you thought web'page', you're very wrong.
Fab book; a real joy.