ONE, TWO, THREE

ABSOLUTELY ELEMENTARY MATHEMATICS

Philosopher and math populizer Berlinski (The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, 2008, etc.) takes on the challenge of explaining the logical foundation of the elementary operations of arithmetic.

It’s no easy task. Indeed, it was not until the late 19th century that mathematicians were inspired to develop the axioms (unproven assumptions) enabling the development of theorems to prove the legitimacy of all those rules of thumb you learned in high school—e.g., that the product of two negative numbers is positive, or to divide fractions you invert the divisor and multiply. Along the way, mathematicians developed set theory, which showed that the operations possible with numbers could be generalized to define arcane structures called rings or fields. Why bother, Berlinski writes in the introduction, noting that most people dislike math. However, he continues, the reason is because such work has the grandeur of the absolute, of something deep in the human imagination. So readers with an open mind to, say, Peano’s five axioms for the natural numbers, may be putty in the hands of Berlinski. The author examines the world of integers, embracing positive and negative numbers, and then fractions, and he introduces many of the hallowed names of 20th-century mathematicians and logicians with charming asides and literary references. The author also explains the various laws of associativity and commutativity that the numbers obey, as well as the value of proof by induction and how it derives from Peano’s fifth axiom. “New math” for adults this is not. Rather, Berlinski delivers a tour de force by a mathematician who wants the intellectually curious and logically minded student to understand the foundations and beauty of one of the major branches of mathematics.

 

Pub Date: May 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-375-42333-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

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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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    

 

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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