Blog Post Review
I recently read How Not to be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg. To say that I enjoyed this book would be a stretch.
The biggest problem with this book was that it had no idea who its audience is. There was a disconnect between much of the information being given. On one had the author would provide us with an overly simplistic explanation of math that a sixth grader could understand, and then go into overly complex math that is explained in an incredibly illogical and confusing way. His jumping from topic to topic without building on previous issues further muddies the waters on who he is trying to reach. His introduction needed to define his audience and explain his thesis for said audience. This clarification would have better organized his thoughts for how the book progressed.
This disconnect made for a very long and tough read. But the authors attempt to tie these concepts together is perhaps the one guiding light in the book. His attempt to connect concepts was by using an overarching example that he could keep referring to. This was done almost every chapter and gave relevance to the concept that her was trying to get across in said chapter. And these stories were fantastic and relevant. His use of the lottery story in Massachusetts allowed him to constantly give context to a series of mathematics that wasn’t incredibly interesting. If he had been able to tie the chapters together like he tied individual chapters together, it would have been a fantastic book. Instead the book continued to feel disconnected.
Unfortunately, this is where he fell apart. Though the stories were good and relevant, the author failed to come back to his overall thesis. The thesis of the power of mathematical thinking wasn’t addressed in a relevant enough way. The book read as a series of small vignettes and didn’t come to a conclusion. I wanted to know how and why the book was going in its direction. Even the movement of the mathematics wasn’t connected in a relevant enough way to even hint at a thesis. Individual chapters hold weight. I could see splitting this book into different articles if better concluded in each chapter. In this way, at least, the author could have better argued individual points about mathematical thinking.
I guess, in conclusion, that the real problem with this book is that the majority of the mathematics lies in an area I just don’t love. Statistics is imprecise and just isn’t up my alley. I understand that it is used in ways that get at the heart of mathematics, a way that describes the world around us, “it is the extension of common sense.” And statistics embodies this. I just like to live in the abstract world when it comes to mathematics. The author attempts to describe a mathematical world that we live in but falls short. A few of his insights give credence to his views, but he fails to share them in a cohesive way that argues for any type of point. Mathematics describes the world we live in and mathematical thinking allows us to navigate within it, but complex, unconnected stories does not, a thesis make.