Richly informative for careful readers who enjoy math.

WHAT'S THE USE?

HOW MATHEMATICS SHAPES EVERYDAY LIFE

If you believe mathematics offers little of practical use, Stewart is back to show you the error of your ways.

In the latest of his numerous books on his favorite subject, the acclaimed mathematics popularizer writes for an audience prepared to pay attention to ingenious yet undoubtedly complex insights. He begins by pointing out that scientists and engineers depend on math, but this is no less true of politicians. “One of the curious features of democracy,” he writes, “is that politicians who claim to be devoted to the idea that decisions should be made by ‘the People’ regularly go out of their way to ensure that this doesn’t happen.” Most readers know about gerrymandering, but this turns out to be the tip of the iceberg as Stewart describes many other ways to pervert voting, all revealed and disproved by mathematics. The author then moves on to the larger question of election fairness. America’s winner-takes-all system seems reasonable, but if one candidate is defeated, 100% of his or her supporter’s votes are wasted. In nations with proportional voting systems, minority voters elect a minority of representatives, so their votes are not wasted. This is fairer—in some ways. In fact, mathematicians have proven that a completely fair voting system is impossible. “Dictatorships are so much simpler,” writes Stewart. “One dictator, one vote.” Regarding our most pressing contemporary issue, climate change, Stewart explains that physicists have found that the growth of melting ponds over Arctic ice bears a striking resemblance to other phase transitions, and sea levels are rising faster than predicted. In other sections, the author offers the revealing (but not simple) explanation of the mathematical background of a GPS system, explains the data compression that vastly increases a computer’s power, and delves into the genuinely weird: how a puzzle with no solution—proven by a great mathematician—increases the ease of kidney transplantation.

Richly informative for careful readers who enjoy math.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5416-9948-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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HOW DO APPLES GROW?

A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-020055-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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