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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


What the Numbers Say: A Field Guide to Mastering Our Numerical World by Derrick Niederman & David Boyum (Broadway Books) Our society is churning out more numbers than ever before, whether in the form of spreadsheets, brokerage statements, survey results, health risks, the numbers on the sports pages, probabilities at the roulette table, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, people’s ability to understand and analyze numbers isn’t keeping pace with today’s whizzing data streams. And the benefits of living in the Information Age are available only to those who can process the information in front of them.
What the Numbers Say offers remedies to this national problem. Through a series of witty and engaging discussions, the authors introduce original quantitative concepts, skills, and habits that reduce even the most daunting numerical challenges to simple, bite-sized pieces.

  • Why do the nutritional values on a Cheerios box appear different in Canada than in the U.S. ?
  • How is it that top-performing mutual funds often lose money for the majority of their shareholders?
  • Why was the scoring system for Olympic figure skating doomed even without biased judges?

By anchoring their discussions in real-world scenarios, Derrick Niederman and David Boyum show that skilled quantitative thinking involves old-fashioned logic, not advanced mathematical tools. Useful in an endless number of situations, What the Numbers Say is the practical guide to navigating today’s data-rich world. 

Can a renowned mathematician successfully outwit the stock market? Not when his biggest investment is WorldCom.

A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market by John Allen Paulos (Basic Books) From America's wittiest writer on mathematics, a lively and insightful book on the workings of stock markets and the basic irrationality of our dreams of wealth. 
In A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market, best-selling author John Allen Paulos employs his trademark stories, vignettes, paradoxes, and puzzles to address every thinking reader's curiosity about the market-Is it efficient? Is it random? Is there anything to technical analysis, fundamental analysis, and other supposedly time-tested methods of picking stocks? How can one quantify risk? What are the most common scams? Are there any approaches to investing that truly outperform the major indexes?

The Millennium Problems: The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles of Our Time by Keith J. Devlin (Basic) The definitive lay reader's account of the Everests of mathematics--the seven unsolved problems that definethe state of the art in contemporary math.
In 2000, the Clay Foundation of
Cambridge , Massachusetts , announced a historic competition: whoever could solve any of seven extraordinarily difficult mathematical problems, and have the solution acknowledged as correct by the experts, would receive $1 million in prize money. There was some precedent for doing this: in 1900 David Hilbert, one of the greatest mathematicians of his day, proposed twenty-three problems, now known as the Hilbert Problems, that set much of the agenda for mathematics in the twentieth century. The Millennium Problems are likely to acquire similar stature, and their solution (or lack of one) is likely to play a strong role in determining the course of mathematics in the current century. Keith Devlin, renowned expositor of mathematics, tells here what the seven problems are, how they came about, and what they mean for math and science.
These problems are the brass rings held out to today's mathematicians, glittering and just out of reach. In the hands of Keith Devlin, "the Math Guy" from NPR's "Weekend Edition," each Millennium Problem becomes a fascinating window onto the deepest and toughest questions in the field. For mathematicians, physicists, engineers, and everyone else with an interest in mathematics' cutting edge, The Millennium Problems is the definitive account of a subject that will have a very long shelf life.

Mathematics, 4 volumes edited by Barry Max Brandenberger Jr. (MacMillan Science Library: MacMillian Reference USA, The Gale Group) Mathematics has been defined as the "universal language of numbers," a language whose basic principles remain the same for all users. Many rou­tine activities, from balancing a checkbook to measuring ingredients for a recipe, require a certain familiarity with mathematical concepts and appli­cations. In Macmillan's Mathematics encyclopedia, users will learn more about the function of mathematics in everyday life, as well as its role as a tool for measurement, data analysis, and technological development. Inter­disciplinary in scope, the encyclopedia provides students with a clear and comprehensive introduction to this vast topic through nearly three hundred entries commissioned especially for the set.

A Broader Look at Mathematics

For many people, mathematics and its basic disciplines‑such as alge­bra, geometry, and trigonometry‑are subjects of fear and dread. The goal of the Mathematics encyclopedia is to make these topics more accessible and interesting to middle and high school students and the general user. Readers will learn that mathe­matics is much more than numbers alone‑it is also an integral part of his­tory and culture. Biographical entries highlight mathematicians who have made significant contributions to the field. Over thirty career‑related arti­cles offer examples of mathematics "on the job," whether it's a nutritionist calculating dietary needs or a photographer compensating for low‑light con­ditions. Entries on applications explore the role of mathematics in our mod­ern world, from everyday conveniences to global communication methods and a multitude of scientific and technological advances.

Organization of the Material

The authors who contributed entries to Mathematics bring a variety of expertise to the subject, and include members of academic institutions, math educators, and curriculum specialists. Contributors used their subject knowl­edge to write entries that are authoritative and up‑to‑date, but free of overly technological terms or scientific jargon. Many entries are illustrated, and numerous equations, tables, figures, and sidebars help illuminate the text. Unfamiliar terms and concepts are highlighted and defined in the margin, while cross‑references direct users to articles of related interest. Most en­tries feature a selected bibliography, including Internet resources. Each vol­ume includes a topical outline, glossary, and index, with a cumulative index to the entire set appearing in volume 4. Recommended for school and public library reference sections.

The Annotated Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott, edited and annotated by Ian Stewart (Perseus Press) The first-ever annotated edition of the beloved classic, beautifully illustrated and brilliantly brought to life for a new generation of readers.

The Annotated Flatland is a unique, delightful satire that has charmed readers for over a century. Published in 1884 by the English clergyman and head-master Edwin A. Abbott, it is the fanciful tale of A. Square, a two-dimensional being who is whisked away by a mysterious visitor to The Land of Three Dimensions, an experience that forever alters his worldview. By contemplating the notion of dimensions beyond their own, Abbott's Victorian readers were exposed to the then-radical idea of a fourth dimension-preparing them for Einstein's spectacular theories of relativity.

Like the book itself, Ian Stewart's commentary takes readers on a strange and wonderful journey. With clarity and wit, Stewart illuminates Abbott's numerous Victorian references, weaves in little-known biographical information about Abbott and his intellectual circle-elucidating Abbott's remarkable connections to H. G. Wells and the mathematician George Boole-and traces the scientific evolution of geometric forms and dimensions. In addition, Stewart provides an extensive bibliography of Abbott's work and that of Charles Howard Hinton, whose wild but ingenious speculations about the fourth dimension undoubtedly inspired Abbott's fable. Touching on such diverse topics as ancient Babylon, Karl Marx, the Indian Mutiny of 1857, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the Gregorian calendar, Mount Everest, and phrenology, Stewart makes fascinating connections between Flatland and Edwin A. Abbott's life and times. The result is a classic to rival Abbott's own, and a book that will inspire and delight curious readers for generations to come.

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