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The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinityby Steven Strogatz
Synopses & Reviews
A fascinating guided tour of the complex, fast-moving, and influential world of algorithms—what they are, why theyre such powerful predictors of human behavior, and where theyre headed next.
Algorithms exert an extraordinary level of influence on our everyday lives - from dating websites and financial trading floors, through to online retailing and internet searches - Google's search algorithm is now a more closely guarded commercial secret than the recipe for Coca-Cola. Algorithms follow a series of instructions to solve a problem and will include a strategy to produce the best outcome possible from the options and permutations available. Used by scientists for many years and applied in a very specialized way they are now increasingly employed to process the vast amounts of data being generated, in investment banks, in the movie industry where they are used to predict success or failure at the box office and by social scientists and policy makers.
What if everything in life could be reduced to a simple formula? What if numbers were able to tell us which partners we were best matched with not just in terms of attractiveness, but for a long-term committed marriage? Or if they could say which films would be the biggest hits at the box office, and what changes could be made to those films to make them even more successful? Or even who is likely to commit certain crimes, and when? This may sound like the world of science fiction, but in fact it is just the tip of the iceberg in a world that is increasingly ruled by complex algorithms and neural networks.
In The Formula, Luke Dormehl takes readers inside the world of numbers, asking how we came to believe in the all-conquering power of algorithms; introducing the mathematicians, artificial intelligence experts and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are shaping this brave new world, and ultimately asking how we survive in an era where numbers can sometimes seem to create as many problems as they solve.
"Even the most math-phobic readers might forget their dread after just a few pages of Strogatz's (The Calculus of Friendship) latest. The author, a Cornell professor of applied mathematics, begins with arithmetic, by way of Sesame Street, then explores algebra, geometry, and, finally, the wonders of calculus — all done cheerfully, with many a wry turn of phrase. From addition and subtraction, with a glimpse into negative numbers and 'the black art of borrowing,' it's a quick step into the hardcore detective work of algebra's search for the unknown x, with algorithms like the quadratic equation, 'the Rodney Dangerfield of algebra' ('it don't get no respect'). Strogatz rhapsodizes over geometry, which he sees as a marriage of logic and intuition that teaches how to build arguments, step by rigorous step, and geometry's 'loosey-goosey' offshoot, topology. Brisk chapters on prime numbers, basic statistics, and probability are all enlightening without being intimidating. Most impressive is Strogatz's coverage of calculus, the math used to figure out everything from how fast epidemics spread to the trajectory of a curveball. Readers will appreciate this lighthearted and thoroughly entertaining book. Illus." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A delightful tour of the greatest ideas of math, showing how math intersects with philosophy, science, art, business, current events, and everyday life, by an acclaimed science communicator and regular contributor to the New York Times.
"Delightful . . . easily digestible chapters include plenty of helpful examples and illustrations. You'll never forget the Pythagorean theorem again!"—Scientific American
Many people take math in high school and promptly forget much of it. But math plays a part in all of our lives all of the time, whether we know it or not. In The Joy of x, Steven Strogatz expands on his hit New York Times series to explain the big ideas of math gently and clearly, with wit, insight, and brilliant illustrations.
Whether he is illuminating how often you should flip your mattress to get the maximum lifespan from it, explaining just how Google searches the internet, or determining how many people you should date before settling down, Strogatz shows how math connects to every aspect of life. Discussing pop culture, medicine, law, philosophy, art, and business, Strogatz is the math teacher you wish youd had. Whether you aced integral calculus or arent sure what an integer is, youll find profound wisdom and persistent delight in The Joy of x.
A world-class mathematician and regular contributor to the New York Times hosts a delightful tour of the greatest ideas of math, revealing how it connects to literature, philosophy, law, medicine, art, business, even pop culture in ways we never imagined
Did O.J. do it? How should you flip your mattress to get the maximum wear out of it? How does Google search the Internet? How many people should you date before settling down? Believe it or not, math plays a crucial role in answering all of these questions and more.
Math underpins everything in the cosmos, including us, yet too few of us understand this universal language well enough to revel in its wisdom, its beauty — and its joy. This deeply enlightening, vastly entertaining volume translates math in a way that is at once intelligible and thrilling. Each trenchant chapter of The Joy of x offers an “aha!” moment, starting with why numbers are so helpful, and progressing through the wondrous truths implicit in π, the Pythagorean theorem, irrational numbers, fat tails, even the rigors and surprising charms of calculus. Showing why he has won awards as a professor at Cornell and garnered extensive praise for his articles about math for the New York Times, Strogatz presumes of his readers only curiosity and common sense. And he rewards them with clear, ingenious, and often funny explanations of the most vital and exciting principles of his discipline.
Whether you aced integral calculus or arent sure what an integer is, youll find profound wisdom and persistent delight in The Joy of x.
About the Author
STEVEN STROGATZ is a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University. A renowned teacher and one of the worlds most highly cited mathematicians, he has been a frequent guest on National Public Radios RadioLab. He is the author of Sync and The Calculus of Friendship, the story of his thirty-year correspondence with his high school math teacher.
Table of Contents
Part One Numbers
From Fish to Infinity 3
An introduction to numbers, pointing out their upsides (theyre efficient) as well as their downsides (theyre ethereal)
Rock Groups 7
Treating numbers concretely—think rocks—can make calculations less baffling.
The Enemy of My Enemy 15
The disturbing concept of subtraction, and how we deal with the fact that negative numbers seem so . . . negative
When you buy jeans on sale, do you save more money if the clerk applies the discount after the tax, or before?
Division and Its Discontents 29
Helping Verizon grasp the difference between .002 dollars and .002 cents
Location, Location, Location 35
How the place-value system for writing numbers brought arithmetic to the masses
Part Two Relationships
The Joy of x 45
Arithmetic becomes algebra when we begin working with unknowns and formulas.
Finding Your Roots 51
Complex numbers, a hybrid of the imaginary and the real, are the pinnacle of number systems.
My Tub Runneth Over 59
Turning peril to pleasure in word problems
Working Your Quads 67
The quadratic formula may never win any beauty contests, but the ideas behind it are ravishing.
Power Tools 75
In math, the function of functions is to transform.
Part Three Shapes
Square Dancing 85
Geometry, intuition, and the long road from Pythagoras to Einstein
Something from Nothing 93
Like any other creative act, constructing a proof begins with inspiration.
The Conic Conspiracy 101
The uncanny similarities between parabolas and ellipses suggest hidden forces at work.
Sine Qua Non 113
Sine waves everywhere, from Ferris wheels to zebra stripes
Take It to the Limit 121
Archimedes recognized the power of the infinite and in the process laid the groundwork for calculus.
Part Four Change
Change We Can Believe In 131
Differential calculus can show you the best path from A to B, and Michael Jordans dunks help explain why.
It Slices, It Dices 139
The lasting legacy of integral calculus is a Veg-O-Matic view of the universe.
All about e 147
How many people should you date before settling down? Your grandmother knows—and so does the number e.
Loves Me, Loves Me Not 155
Differential equations made sense of planetary motion. But the course of true love? Now thats confusing.
Step Into the Light 161
A light beam is a pas de deux of electric and magnetic fields, and vector calculus is its choreographer.
Part Five Data
The New Normal 175
Bell curves are out. Fat tails are in.
Chances Are 183
The improbable thrills of probability theory
Untangling the Web 191
How Google solved the Zen riddle of Internet search using linear algebra
Part Six Frontiers
The Loneliest Numbers 201
Prime numbers, solitary and inscrutable, space themselves apart in mysterious ways.
Group Think 211
Group theory, one of the most versatile parts of math, bridges art and science.
Twist and Shout 219
Playing with Möbius strips and music boxes, and a better way to cut a bagel
Think Globally 229
Differential geometry reveals the shortest route between two points on a globe or any other curved surface.
Analyze This! 237
Why calculus, once so smug and cocky, had to put itself on the couch
The Hilbert Hotel 249
An exploration of infinity as this book, not being infinite, comes to an end
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