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. It’s 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 mathematician’s 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 Scalia’s views on crime and punishment, the psychology of slime molds, what Facebook can and can’t 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.
©2014 Jordan Ellenberg (P)2014 Penguin Audio
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
The title of this book is somewhat misleading (which the author admits). Instead it should have been "how to use math to not feel stupid when you are wrong". The author freely admits the dark truth, most people are not going to use the math they learn. Amazingly this is true even of scientists. Most of the math stuff I learned I don't need, as now I use Excel and Mathematica. Yet this book explains the part of math I do use, and many people don't realize is the important part of math, that is, to extend common sense by other means. This book includes primers of the very basics of calculus and statistics that everyone should know. The stories are humorous, interesting, and make the point that a little math can really help make good decisions.
Unfortunately, there are some parts of this book that don't translate well to audio. A table of numbers can be compared at a glance, but a bunch of spoken numbers are not easy to compare. If you wonder what good is learning math, this is a great book, but I would recommend the written version. The author's narration is quite good, with a very positive attitude that comes through.
Mother, knitter, reader, lifelong learner, technical writer, former library assistant & hematologist.
I run across a lot of books that I add to my to-be-read list and then forget about until after their publication dates or I stumble upon the book in the library or bookstore. How Not to Be Wrong was initially one of those books, but it sounded so good that I found myself obsessively thinking about it and started a search for a pre-publication copy. Since I'm not a librarian, didn't win a copy via First Reads, and don't have friends at Penguin Press, it took some time and effort, but having procured a copy and read it, I can say that it was well worth my time and $6.00. How Not to Be Wrong is a catchy title, but for me, this book is really about the subtitle, The Power of Mathematical Thinking.
Ellenberg deftly explains why mathematics is important, gives the reader myriad examples applicable to our own lives, and also tells us what math can't do. He writes, “Mathematics is the extension of common sense by other means”, and proceeds to expound upon an incredible number of interesting subjects and how mathematics can help us better understand these topics, such as obesity, economics, reproducibility, the lottery, error-correcting codes, and the existence (or not) of God. He writes in a compelling, explanatory way that I think anyone with an interest in mathematics and/or simply understanding things more completely will be able to grasp. Ellenberg writes “Do the Math” for Slate, and it's evident in his column and this book that he knows how to explain mathematical ideas to non-mathematicians, and even more so, seems to enjoy doing so with great enthusiasm. I won't pretend that I understood everything discussed in this book, but it's such an excellent book that I also bought the audio version and am listening to it (read by the author himself!) so I have a much more thorough understanding. I've wished for a book like this for a long time, and I'd like to thank Jordan Ellenberg for writing it for me!
You must have some background with math to appreciate this book. You don't need to be a mathematician, but you need to have some concept of statistics -- not details -- just a basic idea of how statistics work.
The last half of the book was more interesting to me than the first half. Don't start there, start at the first so you will understand the last half.
I found his comments on multi-candidate elections where no candidate gets a majority to be particularly interesting.
There are parts to this book that drag. Some may drag because you might not be interested in the subject he uses to illustrate a mathematical process or principal. When he talks about sports statistics keep in mind that he is illustrating mathematical principles and not focusing on sports.
You can and will learn a lot from this book and will enjoy most of the book. You might learn more than you want to know about some mathematical subjects, but math is a tool and each addition to our toolkit strengthens us whether we know it at the time or not.
good material but I found it hard to follow as an audio book. would be good to have a PDF or something similar to assist.
I listened to this audiobook while getting my doctorate, specifically while taking a quantitative methodology and statistics class. This book had so many applications to social science research, but also to just life in general. I spoke about different topics from the book with friends on hikes, at work, on car rides, and virtually any chance I had.
Nothing - this book is simply not suitable for audiobook. It is very hard to follow the various arguments without seeing the figures and I am a mathematician.
So this is the book for those who were always intrigued about how any of high school algebra and calculus would ever be useful/applicable in the real world. From the first anecdote - about how in it was ultimately decided where to place extra armour in bombers during WWII - this book had me. Math was never my best subject but I found this all intriguing and fun - a mix of Freakonomics, Malcolm Gladwell, and trivia rolled into one. Ellenberg - a college math professor - doesn't talk down to the reader and be warned, he takes us through various equations that underlie the real world problems at stake so some fluency in math is helpful but not necessary. I'll be the first to admit I got lost in some of the equations and logical problems which probably make the print edition of this an easier go than the audiobook format. Still, it should not deter you and it all adds up to great fun that is informative and at times, surprising. Ellenberg narrates this himself in a lively manner which makes you wish you had him in place of you fill in the blanks math teacher of your younger days.
Puts into words many ideas I've had my whole life. So glad to have a mathematical basis for them now
This is a great collection of stories and outlines the thought process of mathematical thinking and the surprisingly broad definition and scope of math.
I looked forward to driving errands so I could listen to more of this book. The author has a knack for anecdotes that make just the right concrete point. The opening story, about fighter planes that come back with bullet holes in all the non-essential areas, was a perfect start to a cautionary section about selecting data bases and avoiding "survivor bias," which is as applicable to choosing high-performing mutual funds as it is to analyzing fighter plane vulnerabilities. He comes at each topic from a variety of angles, but has a firm enough grasp of his subject to tie them all together into the point he wants to make in each section.
I was sorry the author felt he had to reveal so much of his personal politics, but at least he chose aspects that illustrated what he wanted to say about reasonable and faulty styles of analyzing factual disputes. The whole book would have been worth it just for the discussion of how to spot shaky conclusions that depend on selecting a sample exclusively from data outliers, then inferring causation from the regression to the mean that ought to have been expected from the outset. (Thus some variety of the "_____ curse" that supposedly afflicts the performers with the best record in the first leg of a competition, when the rest of the season finds them performing at more their usual level.)
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