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Published on July 2nd, 2014


How Not to be Wrong: The Hidden Maths of Everyday Life by Jordan Ellenberg

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Blurb: The maths we learn in school can seem like an abstract set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In fact, Jordan Ellenberg shows us, maths touches on everything we do, and a little mathematical knowledge reveals the hidden structures that lie beneath the world’s messy and chaotic surface. In How Not to be Wrong, Ellenberg explores the mathematician’s method of analyzing life, from the everyday to the cosmic, showing us which numbers to defend, which ones to ignore, and when to change the equation entirely. Along the way, he explains calculus in a single page, describes Gödel’s theorem using only one-syllable words, and reveals how early you actually need to get to the airport.

(Allen Lane, 2014)

John Crace’s Digested Read | The Guardian

Tony Mann, Times Higher Education 

“…this is a wonderful book. I have some very small quibbles: naturally, many of the examples are drawn from the other side of the Atlantic (the “maths” rather than “math” of the book’s subtitle is not carried through into the book itself); as a Scot, I am irritated by the description of Edmond Halley as “Astronomer Royal of England”; and although the hand-drawn diagrams are charming and make the important point that anyone thinking about maths should be drawing diagrams for themselves, some readers might prefer more polished printed diagrams. But these are very minor points. This book will undoubtedly be read by mathematics practitioners and students, but it also has much to teach all readers about avoiding mistakes, and lawyers, doctors and politicians in particular will gain insights into issues affecting their professions.”

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Manil Suri, The Washington Post 

“Brilliantly engaging… Part of the sheer intellectual joy of the book is watching the author leap nimbly from topic to topic, comparing slime molds to the Bush-Gore Florida vote, criminology to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The final effect is of one enormous mosaic unified by mathematics.”

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Alex Bellos, The Guardian 

“Ellenberg’s prose is a delight – informal and robust, irreverent yet serious… My one grumble is his overuse of humorous footnotes, which detract from the flow of the text. Still, How Not to Be Wrong is an impressive work of popular mathematics. It’s low on formulae and numbers, and big on ideas.”

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James McConnachie, The Sunday Times 

“Underlying the playful stories that make this book so gloriously, surprisingly readable is a passionate argument for the core discipline of managing uncertainty in decision-making. Ellenberg’s message is not so much “how not to be wrong” as “how to know how wrong you might be”. In short, we dismiss maths at our peril, and this book charmingly, persuasively puts us straight. If only they’d taught maths like this at school.”

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Orlando Bird, Financial Times 

“There are plenty of popular maths books around, but this one strikes a particularly fine balance between rigour and accessibility. There are complex ideas here, but Ellenberg has a gift for finding real-life examples of Survivorship Bias, the Laffer curve and many other terms that might otherwise instil a sense of terror. Ellenberg is a maths professor, a columnist for Slate and has a novel to his name. His easy style is lucid and witty. If only all maths lessons were like this.”

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