A smorgasbord for math fans of all abilities.




An expansive overview of numbers and figures, and those who find them irresistible.

Though he has an Oxford degree in math, former Guardian reporter Bellos (Futebol: Soccer: The Brazilian Way, 2002) approaches the subject as an enthusiastic amateur. He begins at the most basic level, with the concept of number itself, looking at the ways children, tribal cultures and animals deal with the idea of quantity. Perhaps not surprisingly, an ability to recognize which of two trees bears the most fruit seems to predate the ability to count. Cultural differences appear even in mathematically advanced societies, and the conventional system of base ten math is only one of several ways to break up the number system, with binary math probably the best known alternative. For arithmetic, Bellos looks at Japanese abacus experts, who can add columns of numbers faster than a calculator, and the Vedic math promoted by an Indian sect, which offers advanced algorithms for multiplication and other troublesome operations. Geometry also provides plenty of material, from the Pythagorean theorem to origami to the “golden ratio” beloved by architects and artists. A chapter on logarithms leads to a discussion of slide rules, the first choice for scientists and technicians requiring a quick answer until the pocket calculator drove it out of favor. Another chapter provides a lucid discussion of statistics and the famous bell curve. Recreational math gets its due, as well, with nods to Sudoku, Rubik’s Cube and the master puzzler Martin Gardner. The final chapter examines infinities and non-Euclidean geometry. Bellos maintains focus on the people who have created math and who have used it creatively, from the famous Greeks to Renaissance figures like Descartes and Fermat, and 19th-century giants like Gauss and Poincaré. Readers desiring more will find online appendices that treat the concepts more rigorously, with proofs where relevant. However, most readers who remember high-school math can follow the clear and entertaining accounts.

A smorgasbord for math fans of all abilities.

Pub Date: June 15, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4165-8825-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2010

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.


New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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