The Joy of X by Steven Strogatz

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The Joy of X by Steven Strogatz

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: Thanks to Strogatz's clear and concise writing style and excellent way of explaining some difficult concepts, this is a maths book well worth reading.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: March 2013
Publisher: Atlantic Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1848878433

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Steven Strogatz, award-winning professor, takes us on a tour of mathematics, and how it relates to our everyday life, in this fascinating book. Split into six sections, 'Numbers', 'Relationships', 'Shapes', 'Change', 'Data' and 'Frontiers', it's an engaging and well-presented read, with short chapters which make it easy to dip into.

I really enjoyed the diverse range of topics in the book, covering everything from Sesame Street to hotels with infinite numbers of rooms, via Yoko Ogawa's novel The Housekeeper and the Professor and Michael Jordan's slam dunks. What's even better than the amount of subjects covered, though, is the way that Strogatz manages to pack in just enough information on each of them to explain them without ever leaving the reader feeling they're drowning in data. A particularly good example of this is the way he summarises the quadratic formula - its history, uses and applications - in just eight pages of concise prose and clear diagrams, while another exceptionally well-written chapter deals with conditional probability and its links to the OJ Simpson trial.

With some absolutely magical moments - the chapter on Mobius strips prompted me to use them as a starter in a lesson, leaving a group of sixteen and seventeen year olds who are resitting GCSE Foundation mathematics absolutely enchanted as they created them - this is an easy recommendation. The only thing stopping it from getting the full five stars is that if you've read a reasonable amount of books about maths, there's not all that much in here that I'd expect to be new to you. Having said that, I don't think I've seen many of them as clearly explained as they are here, so if you're looking for a refresher on a wide range of topics, an introduction to maths, or an interesting gift for someone who loves the subject, this is a definite 'must buy'.

For more on maths, don't miss Professor Stewart's Hoard of Mathematical Treasures by Ian Stewart, a wonderful collection of games, puzzles and stories.

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