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Forget magic. Benjamin delivers a primer generously filled with insights and intuitions that make math approachable,...

An enthusiastic celebration of the beauty of mathematics.

Benjamin (Mathematics/Harvey Mudd Coll.; co-author: The Fascinating World of Graph Theory, 2015, etc.) brings to this book the stage presence of a video lecturer who has contributed math programs to the Great Courses series. Indeed, the book is a distillation of one of those courses and is filled with the patter, puns, and occasional poetry of the stage performer. Presumably because he also loves magic and has learned tricks of the trade, the author compares the workings of math to magic. This is misleading because, as he well acknowledges, math is based on logic and proofs—not magic at all. Benjamin does a fine job of explaining the variety of proofs that math uses (by contradiction, induction, etc.). He begins with a chapter on numbers, number patterns, and tricks on doing mental arithmetic. He then moves on with what is essentially a high school syllabus on algebra, Euclidean geometry, and trigonometry, with a few chapters on Fibonacci series, pi, and probabilities. The author provides several different proofs of well-known results like the Pythagorean theorem. The going gets tougher as Benjamin moves on to more advanced math in the form of complex numbers, e, and calculus. Here, the author is more skilled at telling rather than showing as he introduces how e, for example, appears in odd places and amazing equations. He does a better job at explaining differential (but not integral) calculus, but he devotes much of that chapter to how to differentiate certain functions—a nice tutorial for a test crammer, perhaps, but not of interest to general readers. A final chapter on infinities is better articulated and interestingly shows how performing a few illegal tricks with infinite series can yield astonishing answers.

Forget magic. Benjamin delivers a primer generously filled with insights and intuitions that make math approachable, interesting, and, yes, beautiful.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-465-05472-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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