Thursday, 10 March 2011

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.
Review by Brian Clegg

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