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How Not to Be Wrong



This is a wonderful book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned Mathematical, historical and cultural jewels that I very much look forward to contemplating further or delving into. The author is refreshingly forthright in exploring the impediments to Mathematics Education and its appreciation in society at large. He does this from the position of a working Mathematician and educator.  A broad array of concepts are covered and their exposition are an intricate weaving of historical events and individuals with current events and instructive toy examples.  Wald, Fisher, Pascal, Shannon,  Galton, Hilbert and many more appear at varying times.  These insights into these individuals was remarkably more complex for the amount of words: strengths and weaknesses of their contributions (and the positions, e.g Galton and eugenics).


One of the greatest joys of this book is the discussions are neither superficial nor simplistic. The author starts from the simple and when you think you have digested what is at hand, he add another wrinke and another and enriches your understanding. He supports his case that Mathematics is the extension of common  sense. Particularly informative were the discussions of the law  of large numbers,  lotteries, the concept of regression to the mean. The importance of the role of uncertaintuy in our lives, acknowledging its existence and the value of quantifying marries well with Nate Silvers “The Signal and The Noise” (Silver also discussed in the book).


The author discusses the “cult of genius” and the obstacle it creates to recruitment and retention of Mathematicians and the enrichment of other disciplines by Mathematics. This was compelling and struck me and derived from the insights of one who had negotiated the journey (though admittedly a prodigy) as well as tasked with guiding  and supporting others through it.


There is a lot in this book. It is, however, more than content. It is a challenge to think more deeply about everyday life, about culture, about history and the seeing the “unreasonable effectiveness of Mathematics”.

Categories: books, Mathematics
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