Most of us picture mathematicians laboring before a chalkboard, scribbling numbers and obscure symbols as they mutter unintelligibly. This lighthearted (but realistic) sneak-peak into the everyday world of mathematicians turns that stereotype on its head.Most people have little idea what mathematicians do or how they think. Itâ€™s often difficult to see how their seemingly arcane and esoteric work applies to our own everyday lives. But mathematics also holds a special allure for many people. We are drawn to its inherent beauty and fascinated by its complexityâ€"but often intimidated by its presumed difficulty. The Secret Life of Numbers opens our eyes to the joys of mathematics, introducing us to the charming, often whimsical side, of the discipline. Divided into several parts, the book looks at interesting and largely unknown historical tidbits, introduces the largerthan- life practitioners of mathematics through the ages, profiles some of the most significant unsolved conjectures, and describes problems and puzzles that have already been solved. Rounding out the table of contents is a host of mathematical miscellanyâ€"all of which add up to 50 fun, sometimes cheeky, shorttakes on the field. Chock full of stories, anecdotes, and entertaining vignettes, The Secret Life of Numbers shows us how mathematics really does affect almost every aspect of lifeâ€"from the law to geography, elections to botanyâ€"and we come to appreciate the delight and gratification that mathematics holds for all of us.
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George G. SzpiroFrom Publishers Weekly:
The 50 chapters in this light, occasionally amusing book by Swiss science journalist Szpiro (Kepler's Conjecture) range from two to six pages and include very little mathematics. They cover a wide range of topics, from profiles of famous mathematicians—Daniel Bernoulli, John von Neumann and Niels Henrik Abel, for example—to a superficial discussion of some unproven mathematical conjectures. Szpiro also touches on game theory, Bible codes, the game of Tetris, Isaac Newton's prediction of the end of the world, and the need for insurance. Although mathematics, at some level, is associated with each topic, rarely is it made central, so little holds the book together. Nonetheless, individual chapters are engaging. One on proportional representation (in Congress, for example) documents the surprising fact that a state's representation might increase as its percentage of the total population decreases. Another explains the ways our calendars have been adjusted to compensate for the fact that "the time between two spring equinoxes is... 365.242199 days, which in turn equals nearly, but not exactly, 365.25 days." The discrepancy causes a host of temporal problems. Many of the chapters have appeared previously in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung, which accounts for their abbreviated style and, perhaps, their repetitiveness. (Mar.)
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