Potter (This May Help You Understand the World, 2008) accessibly deconstructs simple math.
This Oxford graduate in classics, who has taught math in Rwanda and Romania, confesses that he had a problem doing sums in his head. That started him on his pursuit of an explanation of why so many people fear math or despair of doing even simple arithmetic. The result is a patient and gentle dissection of the rules: how and why they work; carefully worked-out examples; simple tricks to make mental calculations easier; and ample do-it-yourself problems, helpfully explicated in an appendix. True, most readers could do without the corny stereotypes: the classroom with the obnoxiously bright Bernadette versus the hopelessly disorganized Charlie (who never does get the message). But Potter rationalizes the rules with his artful use of visuals, numerical tables, squares or rectangles with grid lines to depict fractions and ways to cope with them. While most of the book deals with arithmetic, later chapters explore elementary algebra and probability theory, again demonstrating the logic of the rules. Throughout, Potter takes time to digress into math history, including brief sketches of principal thinkers, and he offers plenty of practical advice: He explains why your best bet at the roulette table is to lay down your chips on the first round and then leave the table, whether you’ve won or lost.
Harried schoolteacher? Worried parent? Self-defined math klutz? All could profit from the text, but there is enough sophistication and wry humor in Potter’s approach to appeal to more savvy readers of any age.