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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 21 April 2014
I just love this book. I keep picking it up and reading bits at random. Bought it to refresh my memory of maths learnt at college half a century agoe. Did this and so much more. Recommended, even if you never studied maths before.
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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.
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on 12 April 2013
Steven Strogatz's book 'The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Mathematics, from One to Infinity' is just that; a relatively superficial guided tour of a broad range of mathematical topics. Like a 2 hour tour of an historical monument, the quality of the guide makes a great difference to the experience; fortunately, Steven Strogatz is one of the better guides. One can understand why he won MIT's E.M.Baker Award, which is the 'only institute-wide teaching prize selected solely by students.'

His style is relaxed and chatty, but one never doubts that he knows his subject. Even where it is not his specialisation (e.g. Probability Theory), he has the good grace to admit it. The book requires little knowledge of maths beyond a reasonable grade at GCSE in order to follow along the author's explanations of why things are the way they are in maths. This is the great differentiator of this book; it is not in any way intended as a text book on maths and anyone seeking to review their knowledge of maths in depth will need to go elsewhere. The Appendix offers some more in-depth explanation of some of the more challenging concepts or ideas, at the same time its entries include a host of bibliographical information for anyone wanting to read up on a particular topic in more depth. Hence the book provides a complementary read that explains the history and/or the purpose behind certain mathematical concepts, which marries well with the more standard explanations found in textbooks on the subjects. In this regard, the author works his way through a fairly standard range of mathematical topics starting with Number Theory, then moving through Algebra (Relationships), Geometry (Shapes), Basic Calculus (Change), Statistics and Probability (Data) before finishing with some slightly less mainstream subjects (for GCSE) in the section 'Frontiers.'

Like any good tour guide, Steven Strogatz brings the subject to life and leaves one wanting to return to some of the places visited on another occasion with more time on one's hands to dig deeper.

Overall, an informative and fun read.
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on 31 March 2013
As I stagger through my sixties, I'm finding renewed interest and excitement in books about subjects that I studied at school and university forty to fifty years ago. Back then all text books were turgid and we learned subjects to pass exams. Strogatz brings a fresh way of exploring maths topics and explaining their purpose - I would have found it much easier and more rewarding if this approach had been around in the mid 60s
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on 7 April 2013
Some interesting takes on maths that had me smiling, and actually laughing out loud in a couple of places.

Pity maths teachers were the way they were when I was at school, when math was something to be dreaded for the fear of falling asleep and being woken with a clip round the ear - literally in those days!

It helps to know WHY something is done the way it is and, more interestingly, HOW the method came about in one of those "Jeez, how obvious!" moments that no one but the occasional genius has.
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on 18 April 2013
It is great for the over 50's and for my 11yr old who I bought it for in the first place.
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on 24 February 2013
I have always been interested in maths but last formally studied it at GCSE O level. Since then I have read many books some very good but have never had more than a 90% understanding of the subject, even though I know how to use it.
This book starts at the very beginning explaining each step clearly & amusingly. After reading it I have at last gained an intuitive undersatnding of how & why maths works.
This should be come a standard textbook for every student & a go to 1st for all enthusiasts.
Thank you Prof Strogatz.
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on 31 July 2013
This little gem neatly encapsulates the brilliance that is the Kindle, but also its Achilles heel.

I got the Kindle version of this book for (approx) £1.50 - less than a magazine or Sunday newspaper - and I find myself buying more books this way at this price bracket. If they turn out to be unreadable its not the end of the world.

But this was anything but unreadable, it was thoroughly absorbing and enjoyable, charting a course from the basics of mathematics through to some difficult concepts. Written in a witty, readable style, each chapter focused on a topic, giving enough detail to make it interesting, but not getting bogged down in dry mathematical formula. For example, it explored the mathematics behind Googles page rank algorithm which inspired me to have a go at building an algorithm to rank the football teams in the Premier League (still a work in progress!)

However, it has highlighted the Achilles heel of the Kindle - for a book like this you (well I do anyway) might like to keep popping back to an earlier page to re-read something, or once you've read the book revisit a specific chapter from time to time. This isn't so easy on the Kindle as with a paper copy, but that's not this book's fault so it still gets five stars from me!

I'm a maths teacher with an interest in 'recreational maths' - an interest in maths is needed to enjoy this book and some mathematical ability helps with later chapters, but I would suggest that the book would be accesible for a, say, 14 yr old whose 'not bad' at maths. Interested in maths? Buy this book and enjoy.
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on 4 July 2013
This book is well written and a pleasure to read.
The author covers a very long list of topics in a very intuitive pleasant way.
At the end you have a gut feeling of things like uniform convergence and topological spaces - and then you can dive in more mathematical books with a good intuition of what this stuff is good for!

My only gripe is it felt too short and some chapters are too small and I would have liked more detail. This is a very high level high speed tour of mathematics.
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on 28 April 2014
I bought this book for somebody with Maths phobia, but on reading it found it very entertaining and contains some novel approaches to things such as Pythagoras.

I used to teach a variety of subjects, including maths; this would have been a good adjunct to the weary classroom text books
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