The authors offer some beguiling insights on what math is about and how it has evolved but no royal road to easy...

WEIRD MATH

A TEENAGE GENIUS AND HIS TEACHER REVEAL THE STRANGE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN MATH AND EVERYDAY LIFE

A science writer and astronomer and his student, a teen math prodigy, join forces to elucidate fields of math they find weird.

Darling (Mayday!: A History of Flight Through its Martyrs, Oddballs, and Daredevils, 2015, etc.) and Banerjee are struck by how some of the most abstruse findings from math turn out to have practical applications in quantum physics or computer science—or lead to concepts like orders of infinity or yield unexpected patterns of numbers or figures. One could argue that these findings are neither weird nor magical but the inexorable results of logic and the permissible rules of operation of mathematical systems by imaginative thinkers. As subjects, the authors examine selected fields of pure, as opposed to applied, math. The first chapter takes on the idea of seeing in the fourth dimension, with descriptions of the 4-D extension of the cube called a tesseract. There follows a chapter on probability emphasizing non-intuitive findings and then one on fractals, a field that deals with curves that have fractional dimensions. This idea grew out of a paper by the field’s inventor, Benoit Mandelbrot, that asked, “how long is the coast of Britain?” Thereafter, the authors’ choices are more self-indulgent, with chapters on chess and music, which will be lost on readers who are not game players or familiar with harmonics. Other areas concern computer science and number theory emphasizing primes. There is a particularly wearisome chapter on competitions to generate large and larger numbers, a sport favored by Banerjee. The text concludes with chapters on topology, set theory, infinity, and the foundations of mathematics. This is difficult material, and readers should be familiar with logical paradoxes, the meaning of “proof,” and notions of consistency and completeness of axiomatic systems as well as the work Gödel and others in establishing the incompleteness of any mathematical system complex enough to embody arithmetic.

The authors offer some beguiling insights on what math is about and how it has evolved but no royal road to easy understanding.

Pub Date: April 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5416-4478-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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