Wild About Math! Making Math fun and accessible

10Dec/090

Review: The Math Book

I've been a fan of Clifford Pickover since I discovered his books a couple of years ago. Some of Pickover's book are like Martin Gardner's in that they present problems that inspire Math exploration. But, I must say that many of the problems that Pickover proposes are very difficult ones. Inspiring, yes. Rich in exploration values, yes. Easy, no. The Math Book is a different kind of book. It's a survey of 250 milestones in the history of Math. It has beautiful full page color illustrations. It's approachable for the mathematically curious crowd in the same way that Theoni Pappas' books appeal to people who enjoy Math but are not hard core about it.


Primates count


I was very excited when one day, out of the blue, Mr. Pickover sent me an email asking if I'd like to review the Math Book. I jumped at the opportunity and a few days later the book came in the mail. My first experience of the book was that it's the only Math book that I own, and I own a fair number, that I would proudly put on my coffee table for guests to enjoy. In all fairness, I don't know how my non-Math friends would respond to the book since it hasn't yet left my night-stand. The book is a hefty hardback, weighing in at over 500 glossy pages.


Loxodrome

The Math Book has been so well received that, when Cliff contacted me, he asked that I hold off on writing my review because Amazon had sold out on the first printing. The reviews at Amazon have, not surprisingly, been mostly favorable. And, I have to say that I'm delighted at how down-to-earth Cliff is, given how popular and busy he is, with more than 40 books to his credit.


Holyhedron

The Math Book has quickly become one of my very favorites. It's not the kind of book I'd read from cover to cover. What I like to do is open it to a random page and read the milestone. Each milestone takes up one page and the facing page has an illustration. I've sprinkled a few illustrations throughout this review.

Imaginary numbers

What I particularly like about the Math Book is how it speaks to both hemispheres of the brain. My love of Math comes from seeing mathematics as both a left brain (logical, analytical, computational) and a right brain (beauty, art, intuition, play, pattern matching) activity. There's magic in the union of the two ways of seeing Math. The Math Book will present an interesting milestone and then stimulate right brain thinking with the illustration. For example, the Art Gallery Theorem, posed in 1973:

Imagine that you are in an expensive art gallery represented by a polygon. If we were to place guards at some of the corners (vertices) of the room, what is the minimum number of guards needed so that the entire interior of a polygon can be viewed simultaneously?

This is a very interesting problem and the art gallery illustration helps my visualization juices to start flowing.


Boolean Algebra

While I've heard of many of the milestones, there are many I had not yet discovered. That makes the book particularly interesting because I've grown a little weary of recreational Math books that mostly rehash problems I've run into elsewhere (and usually many times!) And, the bibliography section of the book provides plenty of resources for those of us who would like to learn more about a particular problem. The Math Book would be a particularly helpful book for a student wanting to find interesting problems to explore for a Math or science fair.


Zermelo's Choice

The Math Book would make a great Christmas gift for the Math or science lover. (Another great gift for a Math lover is Martin Gardner's Mathematical Games CD.)

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