Summer maths books!

26th July, 2021

New questions have gone live on the Data Detective challenge on the Good Judgement Open website – check them out and test your skills!

I’ve found myself reading four very interesting maths books this summer.

Shape by Jordan Ellenberg – I’m speaking on a panel with Jordan at the San Diego Union-Tribune festival of books and so I thought I should catch up on his book. (He is the author of the excellent How Not To Be Wrong.) Shape argues that geometry is everywhere, and awesome. Ellenberg writes about maths with admirable clarity but he’s also genuinely funny, which is a real plus.

The Maths of Life and Death by Kit Yates. Less pandemic maths than you might fear, don’t worry! A lively tour of all sorts of mathematical ideas from catch-and-release in snails to the millennium bug.

Thinking better: The Art of the Shortcut by Marcus du Sautoy. Marcus frames mathematics as the art of shortcuts – reaching your destination with less time and effort – and ranges across calculus, statistics, geometry. It’s a lovely idea and very well executed. I’m not so sure of the interleaving of the mathematical chapters with short interdisciplinary interviews. For example, having outlined the art of the pattern-recognising shortcut, Marcus (an accomplished musician) interviews the brilliant cellist Natalie Clein. Is there a shortcut to mastering the cello, he wonders? Um – no.

The Art of More by Michael Brooks – I enjoyed this one a lot. Like Du Sautoy, Brooks is arguing that mathematics helps us solve all sorts of important practical problems. What distinguishes Brooks’s approach is that he situates the mathematical ideas in historical context and shows how – for example – arithmetic leads to accountancy leads to commerce. Reminiscent in some ways of my own “Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy”, except that the things in question are not fertiliser or the elevator or the bar code, but arithmetic and calculus and statistics.

Speaking of which – the sequel to “Fifty Things” is imminent in paperback…

…The paperback of “The Next 50 Things That Made The Modern Economy” is FINALLY coming – 26 August 2021. Please think about pre-ordering, which is hugely helpful in stimulating bookshops to stock and display the book.

“Endlessly insightful and full of surprises — exactly what you would expect from Tim Harford.”- Bill Bryson

“Harford is a fine, perceptive writer, and an effortless explainer of tricky concepts. His book teems with good things, and will expand the mind of anyone lucky enough to read it.”- The Daily Mail

I’ve set up a storefront on Bookshop in the United States and the United Kingdom – have a look and see all my recommendations; Bookshop is set up to support local independent retailers.

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