How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking
By Jordan Ellenberg
Why this book?
This is the only book about math that has ever caused me to laugh out loud. For Ellenberg, a mathematician at the University of Wisconsin, math is not a set of techniques we learn in school but a commonsensical way of looking at the world. And since we all do it anyway, we might as well learn to do it right, or we will end up very very wrong.
Ever looked at a regular pattern and assumed that it will continue that way indefinitely? Ellenberg suggests you pay attention to that missile, which for the first part of its flight headed straight (and safely) into the sky, but is now headed right towards you in its parabolic trajectory. The lesson? Curves are not always straight lines! Ever wonder why South Dakota has one of the nation’s highest rates of brain cancer, and North Dakota one of the lowest? No, it’s not the malignant effect of Mount Rushmore; it’s the Law of Large Numbers at work. And if you want to know if a statistical effect is significant, you had better listen to what a dead fish with uncanny mindreading abilities has to say.
How Not to Be Wrong is filled with such gems from cover to cover. It is the most fun math book you will ever read, but it is also deep: You will never look at the world the same way again.
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