** How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg


Written by a mathematician, How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking explores a wide variety of topics where mathematical reasoning helps make better decisions. The author gives himself the mission of proving that math is useful, which of course it is, but most of the examples are statistics-oriented and none manages to show that calculating a slew of integrals gives any benefits to the average math student (meaning the one that won’t go on to be a math major). Still, his writing is engaging and funny, and effortlessly mixes odd historical facts (Pythagoras believed he could talk to cattle), witty mathematical definitions (“the natural logarithm is the one you use if you have e fingers”), and railings against scientist who “torture the data until it confesses”, and politicians, who may be the worst statistics abusers of us all.

There is a formula (I think notation) error on page 37 — but the rest is sound, and surprisingly accessible, even if p-dimensional vectors, non-euclidean geometry, or Godel’s incompleteness theorem are a bit ambitious!

 

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