Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review: The Joy of X, a Guided Tour Of Math by Steven Strogatz

I was a math major in college. I chose it for a major because the concepts of numbers and the relationships in the study of number theory fascinated me. Strictly speaking, I never had a job where I had to do any higher math, solve a quadratic equation, discuss or teach functions, trig, geometry, etc. But it did strengthen my ability to reason, look at ideas in the abstract and conceptualize a problem in real terms. It certainly helped me a lot in working with software development in one of my previous careers.

I was absolutely thrilled when I got a copy of Strogatz' book. He explains math to the non-math mind in easy to understand tidbits. I often wished I could explain things as easily. This is a book that progresses from simple number theory, e.g., what do we mean when we say we have six of something? to basic arithmetical operations (adding, subtracting, multiplication, division) to discussions of fractions, and percentages. There are chapters explaining basic algebra, and how often we use the theory of solving for X without even realizing it. Next up is Geometry, the theory of infinity, negative numbers--Strogatz covers them all and then marches through integral calculus (here it started to get a bit more difficult ----just like college!!), differential equations, and vector analysis.

The later chapters are definitely more advanced, but if you manage to stick it out that far, you'll be rewarded with an esoteric but lilting discussion of number theory.

While the author would like to think this is not rocket science, it is still deep and requires attention and interest. It should help many motivated adults in understanding what children are now being taught in school, but I'm not sure it will make math aficionados of those who don't want to get it. It's worth a look for anyone who wants to get a better grasp of what the glorious world of numbers is really all about.

Title:The Joy of X, a Guided Tour of Math
Author: Steven Strogatz
Publisher/Format: Houghton Mifflin, egalley
Copyright/Year of original publication: October 2012
Subject: The story of numbers, mathematical concepts
Number of pages: 326
Source?: Net galley electronic ARC

NOTE:  This is NOT a book to be read in the e= format.  Unless the actual book is formatted better in the final E-pub format ( I had an "advance" copy) it is almost unreadable in sections.  Anytime there is a line drawing, a table, an equation that includes fractions, it can only be seen as it is designed when the text is reduced to the smallest available, thus making it absolutely impossible to read.  The constant need to reduce the page so I could see the illustrations really turned me off. 

The book itself is fabulous, and I have no doubt that in paper, or with proper e-formatting it will be a hit.


  1. Very interesting. I too was a math major in college, and I am now a programmer but still don't really use math other than for the ability to think logically. A lot of math stumps me after all these years. This book might be useful. (I usually am most interested in your mystery reviews, but I had to comment on this unusual book.)

    1. Tracy...thanks for the comment. I'm convinced the ability to think logically is one of the most important benefits of studying mathematics, and while I still don't understand all of the really higher end stuff, I feel confident enough that if I had to, and I took the time and energy to, I'd be able to muddle through. Strogatz' book gives people just that kind of nudge.


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