A pleasant exploration of our deeply held incompetence at mathematics.

Comedian and YouTube performer Parker (*Things To Make and Do
in the Fourth Dimension: A Mathematician's Journey Through Narcissistic
Numbers, Optimal Dating Algorithms, at Least Two Kinds of Infinity, and More*,
2014), who hosts a show on the Science Channel called *Outrageous Acts
of Science*, claims bluntly that humans are stupid at dealing with numbers.
“We were not born with any kind of ability to understand fractions, negative
numbers, or the many other strange concepts developed by mathematics,” he
writes, “but, over time, your brain can slowly learn how to deal with them.”
Ironically, it is engineering and computer glitches, not pure math, that make
up much of the book. Buildings and bridges collapse because someone gets the
numbers wrong. A squadron of advanced jets crossing the Pacific suddenly lost
their electronics because their navigation computer program, which must keep
track of time, couldn’t deal with crossing the International Date Line. They
followed an older plane nearby to a safe landing. A corporation, searching for
an employee named Jack Null, could never find him because “null” to a computer
means “no data.” People named Blank, Sample, and Test also cause trouble. A
number divided by a really tiny number becomes very large. The result of
dividing by zero is meaningless; no proper computer will deal with
it. Humans yearn to predict the unpredictable; the author shows how a
truly random event (a lottery draw, a coin flip) has no influence on the
following event. No matter how many times heads appears, the chance of tails
remains 50-50. The only way to increase your chance of winning the lottery is
to buy more tickets. If black comes up four, five, or 10 times in a row on the
roulette wheel, gamblers rush to bet on red because it is “due”—but it isn’t.
Nonsense, blunders, and delusions make for good reading, so Parker’s relentless
litany will have a wide appeal.

Fun reading for nonmathematicians.