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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 6 April 2011
Wish I had read the full set of reviews before I bought this book on Kindle, as it is rubbish, as other people have commented. Don't bother to buy it until/unless they re-release properly.

Having said that, even thought I bought this book in Nov last year (I tend to buy books when I see them, but read them at some later point when I have time) Amazon were happy to refund me the cost back this week when I actually did try to read it. I cannot say fairer than that and it gives me confidence to keep buying books from them.
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on 24 May 2010
Writing popular books on mathematics is a subtle balancing act. If you make things too simple, then there will be people that complain that the book is not challenging or even boring. If you make things too complicated, then you lose much of your readership. Ian Stewart generally gets it just right. Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities is somewhat lower level than his How to Cut a Cake and Math Hysteria, but it is still interesting even for people with a good mathematical background. This is because Stewart does write about complicated things, but manages to make understandable.

Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities more than 200 entries. Many are about mathematical problems and puzzles (some for the reader to solve; solution are given), but there are also entries about the history of mathematics. There are quite a few things you may have encountered before if you are already longer interested in mathematics (for example there are entries on the four-colour theorem, the bridges of Koenigsberg, Fermat's last theorem, magic squares, degrees of separation, space-filling curves, Fibonacci numbers, the Moebius band, chaos theory, the Goldbach conjecture, Hilbert's hotel, Euler's formula, Goedel's theorems, the game of life, and many others), but there is a lot that you will not have seen before.

Personally I like How to Cut a Cake and Math Hysteria better, because these book delve deeper in the problems that they discuss, but I still highly recommend Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities.
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on 17 May 2013
Really enjoyed reading through these curiousities and problems. This is a book I will dip into again over the years. My only issue is that I would like the problems and puzzles to be grouped into easy, hard amd harder etc. The wonderful Martin Gardmer books are also an eclectic mix like this. It makes it difficult when trying to find a lovely teaser for younger children or if ta teen wants to look through the book themselves - it can all seem quite daunting - though I guess teens are not exactly the target market
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on 27 July 2011
I'm a (new) maths teacher, and found this book really enjoyable and interesting, both for me and for my pupils. Stewart has a great style - very accessible and friendly. However, I don't think it would be accessible to anyone who didn't do reasonably well in GCSE maths etc (i.e. that level of knowledge and technique is presumed).
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on 24 March 2013
Having been afraid of maths since school and apart from having excellent mental arithmetic skills, had no interest in the topic. This book has changed this. Much to like in here and some mysteries de-mystified. A good fun bit of reading
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on 6 February 2009
I am a maths tutor. I find that a lot of students don't like maths. This book makes maths interesting. Recently I used it to show one of my students how to make a dodecahedron which is a solid made up of twelve pentagons. The student found it enjoyable and interesting. It's a pity schools don't include this book in their carriculums.
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on 4 August 2015
Utter bilge!
This book was actually recommended to me by a tutor!!

Upon reading it I was really miffed because it's full of what can only be described as claptrap! For example, some passages begin by telling you a fact, asking you to work out a problem and then when you realise that there is no possible way it can be done, the book goes on to explain that it actually can't be done because the fact was wrong!!

What???

I guess some people might enjoy wasting their time and patience, and find such nonsense amusing, but anyone who is like me will find this book one of the most irritating pieces of paper-wasting ever!

A hateful book and a complete waste of money.
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on 21 March 2010
This book is much more challenging than I thought, however this is a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a book with trivia or interesting facts about math, and was not expecting to have to think through some of the challenges as much as I did! A pencil and paper is definitely needed! :)
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 October 2014
This is the second review of a trilogy, I'm reading in entirely the wrong order (book 3, then 1 here, and 2 to follow), so for me, this book is a predecessor to Professor Stewart's Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries. The format is very similar - a collection of factoids, logical puzzles, mathematical expositions and more to entertain any recreational maths enthusiast. I think it works significantly better in this first book of the series because, to be honest, by volume 3 there is probably a bit of barrel scraping going on. Here the topics are fresh and fun.

There is arguably something for everyone here, which inversely means that there are probably some bits, depending on your mathematical knowledge and interests, that you will either find too trivial or too heavy going. But the format makes it easy to skip through to the next. I personally most enjoy the logic problems (though a small black mark for featuring a near-identical "moving the cups" problem to one in the third book) and, much to my surprise, the geometry, which I suppose took me back to a more innocent time. There were inevitably some entries where there was a strong feeling of 'so what?', leaving the reader suspecting that mathematicians need to get a life. And at least one where I think the answer is wrong, if you apply the same logic as applied in an earlier tricksy question. (It's the one about pigs and umbrellas, if you must know.)

Funnily, what works least well are the bits that are most like a conventional popular maths book, that describe famous mathematical problems and their context, such as the four colour problem and Fermat's last theorem. The entries for these are rather longer than the rest, but obviously much shorter than, say, Simon Singh's brilliant book on Fermat. That means that you get concentrated fact, but none of the interesting detail that makes a popular science or maths book appealing. For me these sections just don't work and I largely skipped them.

But - and that's the joy of the format - it really doesn't matter. Because in a few pages there will be something else, and something else, and something else again to entertain and tickle the brain cells. It made me think, reminded me of some old favourite problems and puzzles, introduced plenty of new ones and entertained. What more can you ask from maths?
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on 10 October 2010
I'm not sure whether all, or only 99%, of the entries in this book are plagiarised. Probably all. My reasons for dislike are:
** Utterly scrambled nature of the entries - a miscellany is all very well, but this book is like a miscellany on English with crossword clues, brief biographies, poor puns, anecdotes, all of them on different emotional and logical footings...
** Complete failure to situate techniques. For example the long 's' symbol of integration could perhaps be explained, but isn't
** Utterly uncritical commentary and examples: relativity, 'chaos' (in fact perfectly determined stuff), the 19th century 'infinite' stuff, Goedel, Goldbach, expanding universe etc etc all appear as though there are no possible doubts
** Plagiarism: Dudeney is of course one plagiaree, but Hubert Phillips - who composed innumerable puzzles of the Alf, Bert and Charlie being liars (or not) type is another. Martin Gardner's material has something of a look-in - Gardner was infinitely more interesting. There are wearing accounts of things like the 4 colour theorem, Fermat etc etc, none as far as I can see with anything new to say, no doubt taken from standard histories and probably modern popular accounts
** Worth noting there's no international feel: on the continent, for example, spherical geometry was a major topic - probably for some geography-related reason. France has a different maths feel than in Britain - popular maths there is rather different in several ways
** There's no feeling whatever for the way mathematics has (or hasn't) progressed; what did calculus actually achieve? Are new developments likely, perhaps more sociological rather than physics-based?

An awful, naff, off-putting book.
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