Sunday, June 12, 2016

Blog Post 4: Review of The Math Book

The Math Book by Clifford Pickover was certainly a fascinating read. It's tough to say if a non math background reader would find all of the discoveries from the book interesting. However, as have a math emphasis, I would say I enjoyed reading, what I like to call, "fun facts" from this book. This piece was not trying to explain every detail about the most significant math discoveries throughout mankind, rather it gave: names, dates, and a brief overview about the discovery. Because it didn't go into depth about each discovery, I believe that it was an easy read, even for those who would not call themselves math oriented. I would call this book the Wikipedia version of mathematical history.

Pickover explicitly states in the prologue of the book that he is not trying to justify and explain each discovery, rather just let the reader know when, why, where, and how the discovery played a significant role in mathematical history. Because his goal was to gloss over each discovery, I think the book was well written and was especially significant for a teacher to read. I believe the research behind each discovery was in depth enough to allow the reader to gain more than just a date and who created it. It also was very broad and not specific to just theorems. It had a lighter side as well. For example their were multiple game theories and other neat facts such as the discovery of the probability of which a monkey could type a specific sentence based on how many keys were on a keyboard and how many letters were in the sentence. The text also discussed important devices created such as the abacus and first hand held calculator. This book did a nice job of balancing serious with light and fun.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in mathematics, but more importantly to any teacher who teaches math. If the teacher has a problem with justifying mathematics to his/her students, this book would be the first I recommend to them. For example if a student questions the importance of e, I would tell the teacher to look it up in The Math Book. From their the teacher could recite facts such as the purpose of it's discovery, who came up with it, and how it is used. I think because a teacher could give a student a little background knowledge about almost any topic covered in K-12, the student would find reasoning and a connection with the topic. Therefore, I would suggest this book to any teacher who is looking to make learning mathematics more meaningful for students.

Because I read this book cover to cover, I did find this book a little dry. However, imagine if you were to read 250 Wikipedia pages on mathematical discovers, it probably wouldn't be entertaining either. Therefore I can't really make a comment on how interesting or entertaining the book really is. I found certain pages more interesting than others, however, that would vary on who the reader is regardless. I think the book was simple enough to read that even for those who are not mathematically aware could read with ease. Depending on what the writer wanted, I feel that some pages did not have enough information for the reader to fully understand the discovery. I am uncertain that that was the goal of the writer however. He did leave work cited and where to find more information if the reader was interested for each subject. Thus, I believe the breadth of information for most subjects was appropriate with room for more discovery if the reader chose to follow on. Therefore, the book in my opinion, the book would receive a 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was a useful text and was not written in a way that made the reader feel uneducated. It was at the perfect level to discuss complex ideas in an appropriate language.


  1. You mentioned in class his further references (which aligns with the Wikipedia idea!). I'd add that it is visually beautiful. What's the advantage of having the book vs wikipedia? (Or lack thereof?)

  2. Anthony,
    Nice book review. It seems like The Book of Math would be an excellent resource for any math teacher. As a mater of fact, I have added a hard cover version to my Amazon wish list. I just really like the idea of a book that provides a brief description of different mathematical concepts and/or discoveries through history. Like you said, similar to the class we are in and like Wikipedia, giving just enough information to wet your appetite and give you a direction on where to find more.

    I think you are right in saying that a book like this is a great resource and makes for interesting reading but trying to read it from front to back could be a challenge.

    Thank you for your post,


  3. Anthony, I appreciate your review of this book. My interest is peaked a little now that I've read your review. I think this book, based on your review, might be a good prequel to our class actually. If the book gives more of a surface level intro to these discoveries, then we might have a deeper understanding when we discuss them in class.