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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 19 September 2014
This has been my "coffee table" book that I like to just dip into occasionally, when I have spare 5-10 minutes. This is because it's full of lots of little bits, with no overall narrative. It's not quite a school exercise book, but it does have quite a lot of puzzles for you to think through, some of which require some scribbling with some pen & paper or plugging numbers into a calculator. As well as these, there are lots of little vignettes of mathematical thought which inform but require less input from the reader.

So my initial advice for any readers of this would be get a notepad and some pens and keep them nearby. Fans of recreational mathematics will find much that is familiar here, as some problems recur in just about every such 'popular' level book on maths, such as the problem of the bridges of Konigsberg or lots of factoids about pi.

That may sound like damning with faint praise, but there is a depth of mathematics on display here that is rather splendid. Many of the ideas are really quite profound, yet the way they are presented makes them quite accessible. A non mathematician might disagree with me, but it may be interesting to find out from others if there are areas where they get stuck.

There is a general trend for the puzzles to get a little bit more difficult later on in the book. So we are given some treats that will be unfamiliar even to those who did maths at A-level. We deal with topics ranging from geometry, number theory, topology and even some complexity is thrown in at the end.

I probably ought to add that for any sections that ask questions there are answers provided at the back of the book. Most are pretty good, though if the book does have any weaknesses, it is here, where some of the answers are given with not enough explanation. Though for recreational mathematics, one of the litmus tests has to be how well the solution to the Monty Hall problem is described and this one is very fair.

There is a follow-up book that Ian Stewart wrote, in the same vein but with a different set of problems. Given the quality of this work, I will be reading that as well, so you can look forward to seeing another review like this when I get around to it.
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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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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 27 June 2009
I bought this book for my father, as he is interested in brushing up his maths skills. He was also put off at school with the types of 'If Janet has 24 apples, and Ron has 16...' etc.

On reading the description put forward by the author/publisher on the Amazon site, this looked like just the thing. The description is actually from the preface of the book, and describes the author as finding maths boring at school and has spent his life collecting interesting mathamatical facts that should, through insinuation, make maths 'fun'. My mistake was also to translate 'fun' as 'accessible'.

It's way over my head, a lot of it way over everyone's head by the sounds of the other reviews. I wish that the blurb on the back had been written into the description as I would have thought twice, so I'm writing it here for anyone else:

'What's maths got to do with it? Delve into this curious cabinet to find out for yourself:

How to slice through your fingers without cutting them off.

How to deduce without looking whether the rabbit under the hat is black or white.

Why the M25 is shorter anti-clockwise than clockwise, and by how much.

Why minus times minus equals plus.

And how to extract that cherry from a cocktail glass (harder than you think!)

Forget sudoku. For keeping your brain limber, nothing can compete with Professor Stewart's tasty assortment of numerical nibbles.'

Some of the puzzles are interesting, but the book is laid out with a conundrum to each page. It's very much a 'stocking-filler' book in my opinion. Fun, I'm sure, to those who are already brain-boxes. For the rest of us, I'm not sure how long this will hold your attention.
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on 10 March 2009
I thought I was good at maths and mathematical problems until I opened this book - it was completely over my head... I work in a busy finance office, and just thought I would brush up on a few basics, in a fun way as was suggested by the reviews. Perhaps I just don't have a logical enough brain!!! However, I'm afraid that I returned the book because it was just not my thing.
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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!!


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 4 January 2018
This is a fun little read, good for dipping into. I'm no mathematician, but I enjoy a good puzzle and learning new things. It is a mixture of information, trivia and maths puzzles (answers supplied!).
There are lots and lots of maths-themed topics and while there are some equations, found them straight forward enough (we are not in "A Brief History of Time" territory here!), so they don't alienate the average reader like me. Stewart also writes in a nice, accessible and jaunty style and so makes it fun.

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on 13 April 2013
I concur with other comments on the Kindle version. I found I o be missing some diagrams and workings out and It could do with links to solutions.
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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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