This is a very unique and strange book! One Hundred Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know claims to talk about how math explains our world — and of course math explains most things in the world, from the perspective of many mathematicians, including defrocked ones, hence I just had to read it. Instead, I found a bizarre collection of random thoughts about just about everything, from everyday odds (lots of stories about that), soccer tournament rankings, criminals, spaghetti, square wheels for bicycles, best ways to push a car, and, well, you get the idea, peppered with formulas sure to repel most of us as surely as the thought of having to take a calculus class… Strange? The author suggests that candidates to the American presidency should be able to prove the Pythagorean theorem (but not British politicians, interestingly enough, although the author is British).
To be fair, a few of the 100 stories are interesting and fun, if rather impractical. For instance, having grown up without a 25-cent coin and loving the idea of the quarter coin, I loved the discussion on the best way to set up a system of coins for a particular currency. It turns out that there are two methods, one using 1, 5, 18 and 29-cent coins and the other 1, 5, 18 and my beloved 25. Making change would be really fun with either one, huh?
A special note about pylons. I managed to get through almost 45 years of reading without reading about them but here’s the second book that mentions them in less than a month (see The Pleasures and Sorrow of Work). Clearly pylons are in vogue, at least for British authors. Remember: you read it here first.