Skip to main content

Think Like a Maths Genius [Secrets of Mental Math] – Arthur Benjamin & Michael Shermer ***

This is the kind of book you will either find really fun or deadly dull. Flick through it, and if you are put off by seeing grids of numbers and fractions and mathematical manipulations you will drop it like a hot potato. But if you actually enjoy being able to manipulate numbers in your head, and would like to learn the tips of the trade, this is the book for you.
Starting gently with simple addition and subtraction it works up through levels of multiplication to division, before veering off into pencil and paper techniques, number memory techniques and mathematical magic like magic squares. Where a book like Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions picks off the most bizarre and exotic mathematical trickery, this is mostly bread and butter stuff, with much more focus on practical techniques and less storytelling. For this reason, it’s not as much a book to sit down and read as Martin Gardiner’s classic work, but if you enjoy working through this kind of exercise and building up your mental mathematical ability, this is the one for you.
There is no really exotic stuff here – but that’s not the point. Apart from the trip into number magic, this is real world calculation, the sort of thing we use everyday – but performed using brain cells instead of a calculator. And that can’t be a bad thing. If you find sudoku entertaining, this is very much a book for you. If you can’t see the point of filling in those little squares of numbers, and think everyone should get a life (and a calculator)… look elsewhere.
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

The Bastard Legion (SF) - Gavin Smith *****

Science fiction has a long tradition of 'military in space' themes - and usually these books are uninspiring at best and verging on fascist at worst. From a serious SF viewpoint, it seemed that Joe Haldeman's magnificent The Forever War made the likes of Starship Troopers a mocked thing of the past, but sadly Hollywood seems to have rebooted the concept and we now see a lot of military SF on the shelves.

The bad news is that The Bastard Legion could not be classified as anything else - but the good news is that, just as Buffy the Vampire Slayer subverted the vampire genre, The Bastard Legion has so many twists on a straightforward 'marines in space' title that it does a brilliant job of subversion too.

The basic scenario is instantly different. Miska is heading up a mercenary legion, except they're all hardened criminals on a stolen prison ship, taking part because she has stolen the ship and fitted them all with explosive collars. Oh, and helping her train her &…

Euler's Pioneering Equation - Robin Wilson ***

The concept of a 'beautiful equation' is a mystery to many, but it seems to combine a piece of mathematics that expresses something sophisticated in relatively few terms and something that looks satisfying. The equation that has proved standout amongst mathematicians, as by far the most beautiful (and is only placed second to Maxwell's equation amongst physicists) is Euler's remarkable eiπ+1 = 0. What seems remarkable to me about this is that it just seems bizarre that this combination of things produces such a neat result. (Incidentally, as far as I can see, the only reason for the 'pioneering' in the title was to enable the fancy graphic on the cover of the book.)

Getting popular maths books right is incredibly difficult. When I started reading this book, I really thought that Robin Wilson had cracked it. After an introduction, he gives us a chapter on each of the elements of the equation (except the plus and equals signs), from the more basic aspects like 1 a…