Synopses & Reviews
A fascinating guided tour of the complex, fast-moving, and influential world of algorithmswhat 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.
"This book is, simply put, fantastic. It introduces the reader to the underlying concepts of mathematics — presenting reasons for its unfamiliar language and explaining conceptual frameworks that do in fact make understanding complex problems easier. In a world where mathematics is essential but, largely, poorly understood, Steve Strogatz's teaching skills and deft writing style are an important contribution." — Lisa Randall, professor of physics, Harvard University, and author of Warped Passages and Knocking on Heaven's Door "Amazingly, mathematicians can see patterns in the universe that the rest of us are usually blind to. With clarity and dry wit, The Joy of X opens a window onto this hidden world with its landscapes of beauty and wonder." — Alan Alda
"A delightful exploration of the beauty and fun of mathematics, in the best tradition of Lewis Carroll, George Gamow, and Martin Gardner. The Joy ofand#160;x
will entertain you, amaze you, and make you smarter."
and#8212; Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Language Instinct
"Steven Strogatz should do for math what Julia Child did for cookery. He shows that this stuff really matters, and he shows that it can nourish us."
and#8212; James Gleick, author of The Information: A History, a Theory, aand#160;Floodand#160;and Chaos
"This joyous book will remind you just how beautiful and mesmerizing math can be. Steve Strogatz is the teacher we all wish we had."
and#8212; Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein
"I loved this beautiful book from the first page. With his unique ingenuity and affable charm, Strogatz disassembles mathematics as a subject, both feared and revered, and reassembles it as a world, both accessible and magical. The Joy ofand#160;x is, well, a joy."
and#8212; Janna Levin, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Barnard College, Columbia University, and author of How the Universe Got Its Spots and A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines
"Amazingly, mathematicians can see patterns in the universe that the rest of us are usually blind to. With clarity and dry wit, The Joy ofand#160;x opens a window onto this hidden world with its landscapes of beauty and wonder."
and#8212; Alan Alda
"This book is, simply put, fantastic. It introduces the reader to the underlying concepts of mathematics and#8212; presenting reasons for its unfamiliar language and explaining conceptual frameworks that do in fact make understanding complex problems easier. In a world where mathematics is essential but, largely, poorly understood, Steve Strogatz's teaching skills and deft writing style are an important contribution."
and#8212; Lisa Randall, Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science, Harvard University, and author of Warped Passages and Knocking on Heaven's Door
"Strogatz has discovered a magical function that transforms 'math' into 'joy,' page after wonderful page. He takes everything that every mystified you about math and makes it better than clear and#8212; he makes it wondrous, delicious, and amazing."
and#8212; Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Stumbling on Happiness
"Strogatz may be the only person alive with the skill to pied piper me into the murky abyss of set theory. I literally learned something on every page, despite my innumerate brain. This is a fantastic book, conveyed with clarity, technical mastery, and infectious joy."
and#8212; Jad Abumrad, host of Radiolab
"Strogatz's graceful prose is perfectly pitched for a popular math book: authoritative without being patronizing, friendly without being whimsical, and always clear and accessible. His x marks the spot and#8212; and hits it."
and#8212; Alex Bellos, author of Here's Looking at Euclid
and#160; "Even the most math-phobic readers might forget their dread after just a few pages of Strogatzand#8217;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 calculusand#8212;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,' itand#8217;s a quick step into the hardcore detective work of algebraand#8217;s search for the unknown x, with algorithms like the quadratic equation, 'the Rodney Dangerfield of algebra' ('it donand#8217;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 geometryand#8217;s 'loosey-goosey' offshoot, topology. Brisk chapters on prime numbers, basic statistics, and probability are all enlightening without being intimidating. Most impressive is Strogatzand#8217;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."
and#8212; Publishers Weekly
"Strogatz, an applied mathematician at Cornell University and author of Sync, has compiled his immensely popular series of New York Times columns and added new material. The Joy of X's six parts, each divided into several short chapters, move from number basics through algebra, geometry, calculus and statistics to the frontiers of math, where conjectures about prime numbers are still floating around unsolved. The goal is a second chance at learning the math that might have passed you byand#8212;this time from an adult perspective. The tone is light and conversational, with delightful narratives about lonely numbers and the Tony Soprano psyche of math itselfand#8212;outwardly tough but inwardly wracked with insecurity. The easily digestible chapters include plenty of helpful examples and illustrations. You'll never forget the Pythagorean theorem again!"
“The clash between humanists and technologists, between brain power and machine power, is an ancient battle. In his lucidly written account of how this clash has played out in past years and how it will unfold in the future, Luke Dormehl is a tour guide with the breadth of a scholar, the sagacity of a judge, and the clear eye of a good journalist. This important book deserves to be read, and digested, by all who wrestle with, and enjoy -- or worry about -- a world transformed by digital technology.”
—Ken Auletta, author of Googled
“This information-rich narrative [is] fascinating for experts and laymen alike. A great resource for anyone seeking to understand the intersection of technology and humanity in the 21st century.”
“A persuasive, timely interrogation of one of our age's most dangerous assumptions: that information is the same as understanding, and that everything which counts can be counted.”
—Tom Chatfield, author of Netymology and How to Thrive in the Digital Age
“This is exactly the type of book we need to be reading as society considers the computerized control of nearly all the systems that affect our lives.”
—Chris Dannen, Fast Company
“A smart and thoughtful overview of algorithms and how they affect our daily lives.”
—John P. Kelley, President and CEO of Blackstone Discovery
"From policing, to pricing, to the pursuit of happiness, Luke Dormehl demonstrates how algorithms are driving decision-making across a range of endeavours - including some truly unexpected areas."
—Nick Meaney, CEO and Co-Founder of Epagogix
"A perfect combination of journalism and scholarship ... An essential text for understanding the shimmering boundary between human beings and the machines they create."
—Stephen Ramsay, author of Reading Machines
"Every sentence sparkles with wit and charm. . . it all adds up to an intoxicating cocktail of fine science writing." --Richard Dawkins
"Natalie Angier provides a masterful, authoritative synthesis of the state of knowledge across the entire scientific landscape." --Howard Gardner, Harvard University, author of Five Minds for the Future and Frames of Mind
"An essential experience . . . How dare she write so artfully, explain so brilliantly, rendering us scientists simultaneously proud and inarticulate!" --Leon Lederman, Nobel laureate
"Every single sentence . . . sparkles with enough intelligence and wit to delight science-phobes and science-philes alike. I loved it!" --Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Bait and Switch and Nickel and Dimed
"Natalie Angier makes planets and particles sexy. . .She turns guys with lab coats and pocket protectors into Daniel Craig." --Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind
"Exuberant . . . She writes with such verve, humor, and warmth." Library Journal Starred
"This bestselling author's love of words is writ large here . . . the excitement and challenge of science [is] masterfully conveyed." Kirkus Reviews, Starred
"Angier is a nimble stylist with a playful sense of alliteration and consonance." --Ben Dickinson Elle
"An excellent introduction (or refresher) to the beautiful basics of science, and I hope it is widely read." --Steven Pinker The New York Times Book Review
andquot;Here isand#160;the amazing story of an unbelievable boyand#160;
andmdash; somebody who seems more like a figure out of fiction (science fiction, to be specific) than reality. But the story is true, the boy is true, and the science is true. And the world that opens up to us through his story is bothand#160;fascinating and slightly terrifying...but in a good way
. You wonand#39;t be able to walk away from this tale.andquot; --Elizabeth Gilbert, author ofand#160;Eat, Pray, Love
and#160;andand#160;The Signature of All Things
andquot;Imagine if cartoon whiz-kid Jimmy Neutron were real and had a brainchild with MacGyver and his adolescence got told asand#160;a rollicking bildungsroman about American prodigies and DIY nuclear reactorsandmdash;well, thatandrsquo;s this book.andquot; and#160;--Jack Hitt, author ofand#160;Bunch of Amateurs.and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; and#160; and#160; and#160; and#160; and#160; and#160; and#160; and#160; and#160; and#160; and#160; and#160;and#160;
andquot;Clynes guides us onand#160;an engrossing journey to the outer realms of science and parenting, andquot;The Boy Who Played with Fusionandquot; isand#160;a fascinating exploration of andquot;giftednessandquot; and all its consequences. --Paul Greenberg, author ofand#160;Four Fishand#160;andand#160;American Catch
Popular Science contributing editor Clynes (Music Festivals From Bach to Blues: A Travellers Guide, 1996, etc.) uses the story of Taylor Wilsonandmdash;who, at age 14, became andquot;one of only thirty-two individuals on the planet to build a working fusion reactor, a miniature sun on Earthandquot;andmdash;to illustrate the potential for improving our educational system. andquot;What does it take to identify and develop the raw material of talent and turn it into exceptional accomplishment? How do we parent and educate extraordinarily determined and intelligent children and help them reach their potential?andquot; These are the questions the author seeks to answer in this enlightening book. Clynes first learned about Taylor in 2010 when he was interviewing members of a small community of andquot;nuclear physics enthusiasts.andquot; At the time, Taylor was attending the Davidson Academy, an experimental secondary school in Reno that offered students the opportunity to attend classes at the University of Nevada-Reno. Taylor enrolled in physics seminars and had successfully completed a project to build a tabletop fusion reactor that allowed him to study the properties of different materials. The family had moved to Reno so that Taylor could take advantage of the Davidson opportunity. His father was a successful entrepreneur who had fostered Taylorand#39;s developing interest in science, beginning at age 6, with his fascination with rocket propulsion. Although he had no technical training himself, Wilson enlisted the help of more knowledgeable friends from the community to help his son safely pursue experiments with rockets. Clynes chronicles Taylorand#39;s development since their first meeting, during which time he invented a prototype for a andquot;hundred-thousand-dollar tabletop nuclear fusion device that could produce medical isotopes as precisely as the multimillion-dollar cyclotron or linear accelerator facilities could,andquot; as well as a highly sensitive, low-dose device for identifying nuclear terrorists. Clynes makes a persuasive case for allowing gifted children the freedom and resources to pursue their interests. and#160;---KIRKUS Reviews
A delightful tour of the greatest ideas of math, showing how math intersects withand#160;philosophy, science, art, business, current events, and everyday life, by an acclaimed science communicator and regular contributor to the New York Times.
In 2010, award-winning professor Steven Strogatz wrote a series for the New York Times
online called “The Elements of Math.” It was hugely popular: Each piece climbed the most emailed list and elicited hundreds of comments. Readers begged for more, and Strogatz has now delivered. In this fun, fast-paced book, he offers us all a second chance at math. Each short chapter of The Joy of X
provides an “Aha!” moment, starting with why numbers are helpful, and moving on to such topics as shapes, calculus, fat tails, and infinity. Strogatz explains the ideas of math gently and clearly, with wit, insight, and brilliant illustrations. Assuming no knowledge, only curiosity, he shows how math connects to literature, philosophy, law, medicine, art, business, even pop culture and current events. For example, 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? Strogatz is the math teacher you wish youd had, and The Joy of X is the book youll want to give to all your smart and curious friends.
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#8212; 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 ofand#160;x offers an and#8220;aha!and#8221; moment, starting with why numbers are so helpful, and progressing through the wondrous truths implicit in and#960;, 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 arenand#8217;t sure what an integer is, youand#8217;ll find profound wisdom and persistent delight in The Joy of x.
"Delightful . . . easily digestible chapters include plenty of helpful examples and illustrations. You'll never forget the Pythagorean theorem again!"and#8212;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 youand#8217;d had. Whether you aced integral calculus or arenand#8217;t sure what an integer is, youand#8217;ll find profound wisdom and persistent delight in The Joy of x.
An account of child genius Taylor Wilsonand#8217;s successful quest to build his own nuclear reactor at the age of fourteen, and an exploration of how gifted children can be nurtured to do extraordinary things.
How an American teenager became the youngest person ever to build a working nuclear fusion reactorand#160;
By the age of nine, Taylor Wilson had mastered the science of rocket propulsion. At eleven, his grandmotherandrsquo;s cancer diagnosis drove him to investigate new ways to produce medical isotopes. And by fourteen, Wilson had built a 500-million-degree reactor and become the youngest person in history to achieve nuclear fusion. How could someone so young achieve so much, and what can Wilsonandrsquo;s story teach parents and teachers about how to support high-achieving kids?
In The Boy Who Played with Fusion, science journalist Tom Clynes narrates Taylor Wilsonandrsquo;s extraordinary journeyandmdash;from his Arkansas home where his parents fully supported his intellectual passions, to a unique Reno, Nevada, public high school just for academic superstars, to the present, when now nineteen-year-old Wilson is winning international science competitions with devices designed to prevent terrorists from shipping radioactive material into the country. Along the way, Clynes reveals how our education system shortchanges gifted students, and what we can do to fix it.
From the Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author of Woman, a playful, passionate guide to the science all around us
With the singular intelligence and exuberance that made Woman an international sensation, Natalie Angier takes us on a whirligig tour of the scientific canon. She draws on conversations with hundreds of the world's top scientists and on her own work as a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for the New York Times to create a thoroughly entertaining guide to scientific literacy. Angier's gifts are on full display in The Canon, an ebullient celebration of science that stands to become a classic.
The Canon is vital reading for anyone who wants to understand the great issues of our time -- from stem cells and bird flu to evolution and global warming. And it's for every parent who has ever panicked when a child asked how the earth was formed or what electricity is. Angier's sparkling prose and memorable metaphors bring the science to life, reigniting our own childhood delight in discovering how the world works. "Of course you should know about science," writes Angier, "for the same reason Dr. Seuss counsels his readers to sing with a Ying or play Ring the Gack: These things are fun and fun is good."
The Canon is a joyride through the major scientific disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy. Along the way, we learn what is actually happening when our ice cream melts or our coffee gets cold, what our liver cells do when we eat a caramel, why the horse is an example of evolution at work, and how we're all really made of stardust. It's Lewis Carroll meets Lewis Thomas -- a book that will enrapture, inspire, and enlighten.
About the Author
TOM CLYNES is a writer and photographer who covers the adventurous side of science, the environment, and education.andnbsp;He hasandnbsp;reported on Ebola outbreaks and eco-mercenaries in central Africa, climatologists working in Greenland, and arsenic-loving microbes in Californiaandrsquo;s Mono Lake.andnbsp;He was aandnbsp;contributing editor at National Geographic Adventure for over a decade, and now regularly writes for National Geographic, Menandrsquo;s Journal, and Popular Science, where he is a contributing editor. He has also contributed to GQ, Conservation Magazine, the Guardian, the Times of London, Bicycling, Backpacker, and the Washington Post. His magazine stories have appeared multiple times in Best American Sports Writing and Best American Travel Writing. He is alsoandnbsp;a Knight Wallace Journalism Fellow, an International Reporting Project Fellow, and a two-time recipient of the Lowell Thomas Award. He currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Brookline, Vermont.
Table of Contents
From Fish to Infinityand#8195;3
An introduction to numbers, pointing out their upsides (theyand#8217;re efficient) as well as their downsides (theyand#8217;re ethereal)
Treating numbers concretelyand#8212;think rocksand#8212;can make calculations less baffling.
The Enemy of My Enemyand#8195;15
The disturbing concept of subtraction, and how we deal with the fact that negative numbers seem so .and#160;.and#160;. 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 Discontentsand#8195;29
Helping Verizon grasp the difference between .002 dollars and .002 cents
Location, Location, Locationand#8195;35
How the place-value system for writing numbers brought arithmetic to the masses
The Joy of xand#8195;45
Arithmetic becomes algebra when we begin working with unknowns and formulas.
Finding Your Rootsand#8195;51
Complex numbers, a hybrid of the imaginary and the real, are the pinnacle of number systems.
My Tub Runneth Overand#8195;59
Turning peril to pleasure in word problems
Working Your Quadsand#8195;67
The quadratic formula may never win any beauty contests, but the ideas behind it are ravishing.
In math, the function of functions is to transform.
Geometry, intuition, and the long road from Pythagoras to Einstein
Something from Nothingand#8195;93
Like any other creative act, constructing a proof begins with inspiration.
The Conic Conspiracyand#8195;101
The uncanny similarities between parabolas and ellipses suggest hidden forces at work.
Sine Qua Nonand#8195;113
Sine waves everywhere, from Ferris wheels to zebra stripes
Take It to the Limitand#8195;121
Archimedes recognized the power of the infinite and in the process laid the groundwork for calculus.
Change We Can Believe Inand#8195;131
Differential calculus can show you the best path from A to B, and Michael Jordanand#8217;s dunks help explain why.
It Slices, It Dicesand#8195;139
The lasting legacy of integral calculus is a Veg-O-Matic view of the universe.
All about eand#8195;147
How many people should you date before settling down? Your grandmother knowsand#8212;and so does the number e.
Loves Me, Loves Me Notand#8195;155
Differential equations made sense of planetary motion. But the course of true love? Now thatand#8217;s confusing.
Step Into the Lightand#8195;161
A light beam is a pas de deux of electric and magnetic fields, and vector calculus is its choreographer.
The New Normaland#8195;175
Bell curves are out. Fat tails are in.
The improbable thrills of probability theory
Untangling the Weband#8195;191
How Google solved the Zen riddle of Internet search using linear algebra
The Loneliest Numbersand#8195;201
Prime numbers, solitary and inscrutable, space themselves apart in mysterious ways.
Group theory, one of the most versatile parts of math, bridges art and science.
Twist and Shoutand#8195;219
Playing with Mand#246;bius strips and music boxes, and a better way to cut a bagel
Differential geometry reveals the shortest route between two points on a globe or any other curved surface.
Why calculus, once so smug and cocky, had to put itself on the couch
The Hilbert Hoteland#8195;249
An exploration of infinity as this book, not being infinite, comes to an end