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How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinkingby Jordan Ellenberg
Synopses & Reviews
The Freakonomics of math — a math-world superstar unveils the hidden beauty and logic of the world and puts its power in our hands.
The math we learn in school can seem like a dull set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In How Not to Be Wrong, Jordan Ellenberg shows us how terribly limiting this view is: Math isn't confined to abstract incidents that never occur in real life, but rather touches everything we do — the whole world is shot through with it.
Math allows us to see the hidden structures underneath the messy and chaotic surface of our world. Its a science of not being wrong, hammered out by centuries of hard work and argument. Armed with the tools of mathematics, we can see through to the true meaning of information we take for granted: How early should you get to the airport? What does public opinion” really represent? Why do tall parents have shorter children? Who really won Florida in 2000? And how likely are you, really, to develop cancer?
How Not to Be Wrong presents the surprising revelations behind all of these questions and many more, using the mathematicians method of analyzing life and exposing the hard-won insights of the academic community to the layman — minus the jargon. Ellenberg chases mathematical threads through a vast range of time and space, from the everyday to the cosmic, encountering, among other things, baseball, Reaganomics, daring lottery schemes, Voltaire, the replicability crisis in psychology, Italian Renaissance painting, artificial languages, the development of non-Euclidean geometry, the coming obesity apocalypse, Antonin Scalias views on crime and punishment, the psychology of slime molds, what Facebook can and cant figure out about you, and the existence of God.
Ellenberg pulls from history as well as from the latest theoretical developments to provide those not trained in math with the knowledge they need. Math, as Ellenberg says, is an atomic-powered prosthesis that you attach to your common sense, vastly multiplying its reach and strength.” With the tools of mathematics in hand, you can understand the world in a deeper, more meaningful way. How Not to Be Wrong will show you how.
"In this wry, accessible, and entertaining exploration of everyday math, Ellenberg, professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, shows readers how 'knowing mathematics is like wearing a pair of X-ray specs' that reveal the hidden structure of the world. Too often, mathematics is taught as a 'long list of rules' without any real-world application. Ellenberg stresses that even the most complex math is based on common sense and then proves it with examples that take the abstract and make it real. Lines and curves provide the foundation for explorations of the Affordable Care Act and the infamous Laffer curve (with a Ferris Bueller shout-out). The ancient and 'extremely weird' Pythagoreans help us calculate the area of a tuna fish sandwich. The search for patterns in large, seemingly random data leads to a fascinating discussions of lotteries and of why 'reading' sheep entrails isn't a good way to predict stock prices. From discussing the difference between correlation and causation, to how companies use big data to predict your interests and preferences, Ellenberg finds the common-sense math at work in the everyday world, and his vivid examples and clear descriptions show how 'math is woven into the way we reason.' Agent: Jay Mandel, William Morris Endeavor. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“The author avoids heavy jargon and relies on real-world anecdotes and basic equations and illustrations to communicate how even simple math is a powerful tool….[Ellenberg] writes that, at its core, math is a special thing and produces a feeling of understanding unattainable elsewhere: ‘You feel you've reached into the universes guts and put your hand on the wire. Math is profound, and profoundly awesome, so we should use it well — or risk being wrong….Witty and expansive, Ellenberg's math will leave readers informed, intrigued and armed with plenty of impressive conversation starters.” Kirkus Reviews
“Readers will indeed marvel at how often mathematics sheds unexpected light on economics (assessing the performance of investment advisors), public health (predicting the likely prevalence of obesity in 30 years), and politics (explaining why wealthy individuals vote Republican but affluent states go for Democrats). Relying on remarkably few technical formulas, Ellenberg writes with humor and verve as he repeatedly demonstrates that mathematics simply extends common sense. He manages to translate even the work of theoretical pioneers such as Cantor and Gödel into the language of intelligent amateurs. The surprises that await readers include not only a discovery of the astonishing versatility of mathematical thinking but also a realization of its very real limits. Mathematics, as it turns out, simply cannot resolve the real-world ambiguities surrounding the Bush-Gore cliff-hanger of 2000, nor can it resolve the much larger question of Gods existence. A bracing encounter with mathematics that matters.” Booklist
“The title of this wonderful book explains what it adds to the honorable genre of popular writing on mathematics. Like Lewis Carroll, George Gamow, and Martin Gardner before him, Jordan Ellenberg shows how mathematics can delight and stimulate the mind. But he also shows that mathematical thinking should be in the toolkit of every thoughtful person — of everyone who wants to avoid fallacies, superstitions, and other ways of being wrong.” Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; author of How the Mind Works
About the Author
Jordan Ellenberg is the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has lectured around the world on his research in number theory and delivered one of the plenary addresses at the 2013 Joint Mathematics Meetings, the largest math conference in the world. His writing has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, and The Believer, and he has been featured on the Today show and NPRs All Things Considered. He writes a popular column called Do the Math” for Slate.
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