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.

Book review: check.

ReplyDeleteI like statistics just fine (though I'm no expert) and I felt similarly about the inconsistent audience, though I like his basic frame of math as a kind of distilled logic.