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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz: Making Light of Weighty Ideas » User review

What they said ... making light of weight ideas!

  • Aug 20, 2010
What a wonderful motto for learning! To understand deep things simply, investigate simple things deeply. In "Coincidences, Chaos and All That Math Jazz", Burger and Starbird take that motto to heart and bless their readers with an entertaining, irreverent, always amusing yet eminently readable and completely understandable exploration of some of the frontiers of mathematics.

In the opening chapters, real-life numbers - the roulette wheel, nature vs nurture studies of twin's characteristics, e-mail stock picking scam and spam artists, air safety standards, HIV testing and the puzzle of coincident birth dates at a party - are used to put meat onto the bones of the familiar saying "lies, damned lies and statistics" and to introduce the modern concept of mathematical chaos.

A simple straightforward chapter on the nature of numbers that almost effortlessly leads us into a basic understanding of much more complex topics such as cryptography, the Goldbach and the Twin Prime conjectures closes with the interesting comment, "... our instinctive desire to wonder about the world of numbers has paid enormous practical dividends in the past - abstract ideas about primes and factoring unexpectedly led to public key cryptography and security in Internet commerce. Somehow human curiosity about numbers from ancient times to the present seems to be in synchronicity with the universe."

Counting spirals on pineapples and sunflowers and the simple act of folding and unfolding a strip of paper is used as a springboard to take the reader, who is now thoroughly engrossed in the enjoyable style of the book, to a basic understanding of the Fibonacci sequence, the golden ratio, chaos and fractals.

But for me personally, the most interesting section was the last one. Burger and Starbird used extremely simple notions of counting, matching and a hotel with an infinite number of rooms to guide the unsuspecting reader to a brilliant "aha" moment - a concise, clear understanding of Cantor's ideas regarding the cardinality of infinity, the completely counterintuitive idea that some infinities are bigger than others.

Mathematics is fun and beautiful and this wonderful little book will show even the most math-phobic reader why! Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss

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August 20, 2010
Math was never one of my first choice classes; I was all about writing, English, Debate and journalism...which was/is my career. But this book sounds pretty interesting, especially after reading such a well-written review. Thanks. Paul, and thanks for being a new moderator. (Somebody has to do it... LOL) Hugs - Betty
August 20, 2010
How interesting! Great review.
August 20, 2010
Thanks, Linda.
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Paul Weiss ()
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   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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About this book


As if they were comedy-club stand-ups, Burger and Starbird employ puns and silly scenarios to tickle those who wouldn't ordinarily pick up a math book. Everyone, however fearful of the topic, uses math in daily life. Two popular fixations with numbers that the authors home in on include the amazing similarities between John Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln and playing the lottery. Describing the easy math beneath superficially wondrous things, often no more complicated than enumeration and arithmetic, Burger and Starbird dispel the astounding to reveal what a little logical rigor can do, and they use their schtick to keep things light. Avoiding alarming announcements, they never charge headlong into a topic such as the Golden Ratio, but circumscribe it by counting swirls on pineapples and noting the ratio's frequent appearance in nature and in art. Likewise, Burger and Starbird don't bludgeon readers with number theory, geometry, or topology; they take up origami or spin a yarn about a tsetse fly. A profusely illustrated, bemusingly unorthodox introduction to math.Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved--This text refers to theHardcoveredition.
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ISBN-10: 0393329313
ISBN-13: 978-0393329315
Author: Edward B. Burger
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

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