MATHLETICS by John D. Barrow


A Scientist Explains 100 Amazing Things About the World of Sports
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Entertaining deconstruction of the mathematics of sports.

To enjoy this book, readers need only a basic knowledge of high school math, even when Barrow (Mathematical Sciences/Cambridge Univ.; The Book of Universes: Exploring the Limits of the Cosmos, 2011, etc.) discusses more complicated subjects such as probabilities. He shows how the relationship between time and distance determines the best strategy for kicking the ball in rugby or soccer. Turning to track and field, Barrow speculates that in order to top his world-record 100-meter time, sprinter Usain Bolt could reduce his reaction time, but an even better bet would be to race on a high-altitude track in Mexico City while getting an assist from a high tailwind. The author explains why runners, given a choice, don't select either the inside position on a circular track, even though it is the shortest distance, or the outside, with its gentler curve, because they want to gauge the speed of the runners on either side. Barrow also investigates Cold War politics to discover why female world records in Olympic track and field competitions have remained static in recent years. The answer can be found in the practices of the East German Stasi, who systematically dosed their athletes with anabolic steroids. While random testing is now routine for Olympic athletes, there is no random testing of U.S. baseball players, despite evidence of steroid use. The author explains that existing tests are not considered to be sufficiently precise. Using hypothetical examples, Barrow introduces the fundamentals of statistics and the application of Bayes' theorem to conditional probabilities, and he includes discussions of skydiving, rowing, triathlons and water polo, among other athletic endeavors.

An illuminating mix for sports fans and math buffs looking to hone their skills.

Pub Date: June 18th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-393-06341-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2012


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