Monday, October 19, 2015

The Joy of X

For class, the book I chose to read was The Joy of X by Steven Strogatz. Strogatz opens his book by stating that his goal of writing this book is to have "a guided tour of math, from one to infinity." He realizes that many people are off-put by mathematics early in their lives for some reason or another, and hopes that through his book, them (or anyone) can once again come to enjoy or at least not despise math.

Honestly, I struggled to get through the first few chapters of this book. As someone who enjoys mathematics, I found the beginning to be rather dull as it just went through basic ideas about numbers and counting which almost everyone already knows. Because of this, my hopes were not high for the remainder of the book, however I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the rest of it. In chapter 4, he talks about how counter intuitive the commutative property of multiplication is and how it breaks down in nature, i.e. the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. I had never really given this much thought and it sparked my interest and helped make me want to actually read more. Throughout the chapters from this point forward, there were quite a few more moments like this. For example, in chapter 15, he talks about sine waves and how they show up almost everywhere in nature, and in chapter 24 he talks about linear algebra and how its the basis for google's web search. All these little examples of mathematics occurring in everyday life really made me appreciate this book much more than when I started out assuming it was going to be wall after wall of boring text.

One thing I noticed about the book that I thought was kind of interesting was that the order in which he presents his topics is pretty much identical to how we have been learning about mathematics in our class. The first few chapters are almost parallels of the few first days of class we had in regards to the subjects that we discussed. Another aspect of the book I thought was kind of cool was that Eugenia Cheng and Strogratz both used the example of mattress flipping when talking about group theory and bagels with mobius strips.

Overall, I ended up really enjoying this book and would definitely recommend it to anyone interested. The amount of real life examples he uses to show the importance of math really hooked me. The fact that its a book about mathematics written in a style that allows anyone to be able to understand what is being said is also really appealing and this may have been the biggest thing that drew me to it. The fact that you can just casually read the book and understand what is going on or have an active approach to look at investigate some of the notes he has on further proving some topics was really nice. There were days where I didn't really feel like thinking too much so I could just read it like any other book and then there were moments where something he said was super interesting so you could go to the notes part and there might be further discussion or proofs on it. In the end, I have nothing but praise for this book and would probably be tempted to read any other book similar to this.

1 comment:

  1. book review: check
    Interesting that you noticed the connection to the course - I think it definitely interested me. If I was picking one book for the course, it would be this or the Euler biography.