How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

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Penguin, May 29, 2014 - Mathematics - 480 pages
12 Reviews
The Freakonomics of math—a math-world superstar unveils the hidden beauty and logic of the world and puts its power in our hands

The math we learn in school can seem like a dull set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In How Not to Be Wrong, Jordan Ellenberg shows us how terribly limiting this view is: Math isn’t confined to abstract incidents that never occur in real life, but rather touches everything we do—the whole world is shot through with it.

Math allows us to see the hidden structures underneath the messy and chaotic surface of our world. It’s a science of not being wrong, hammered out by centuries of hard work and argument. Armed with the tools of mathematics, we can see through to the true meaning of information we take for granted: How early should you get to the airport? What does “public opinion” really represent? Why do tall parents have shorter children? Who really won Florida in 2000? And how likely are you, really, to develop cancer?

How Not to Be Wrong presents the surprising revelations behind all of these questions and many more, using the mathematician’s method of analyzing life and exposing the hard-won insights of the academic community to the layman—minus the jargon. Ellenberg chases mathematical threads through a vast range of time and space, from the everyday to the cosmic, encountering, among other things, baseball, Reaganomics, daring lottery schemes, Voltaire, the replicability crisis in psychology, Italian Renaissance painting, artificial languages, the development of non-Euclidean geometry, the coming obesity apocalypse, Antonin Scalia’s views on crime and punishment, the psychology of slime molds, what Facebook can and can’t figure out about you, and the existence of God.

Ellenberg pulls from history as well as from the latest theoretical developments to provide those not trained in math with the knowledge they need. Math, as Ellenberg says, is “an atomic-powered prosthesis that you attach to your common sense, vastly multiplying its reach and strength.” With the tools of mathematics in hand, you can understand the world in a deeper, more meaningful way. How Not to Be Wrong will show you how.
 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - aevaughn - LibraryThing

This book is extremely well-written and covers a diverse set of material related to applied mathematics (statistics particularly). However, it covers many disparate topics, and the only string I ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - OscarWilde87 - LibraryThing

In order to pick up this book, I guess you have to have at least a faint interest in mathematics. Otherwise, the word 'mathematical' in the title will probably scare you off. However, not being wrong ... Read full review

Contents

WHEN AM I GOING TO USE THIS2
1
PART I
19
Two STRAIGHT LOCALLY CURVED GLOBALLY
31
Three EVERYONE IS OBESE
50
Four HOW MUCH IS THAT IN DEAD AMERICANS2
62
Five MORE PIE THAN PLATE
77
PART II
87
Seven DEAD FISH DONT READ MINDS
102
Twelve MISS MORE PLANES
233
Thirteen WHERE THE TRAIN TRACKS MEET
255
PART IV
293
Fifteen GALTONS ELLIPSE
311
Sixteen DOES LUNG CANCER MAKE
347
Existence
363
Eighteen OUT OF NOTHING I HAVE CREATED
393
HOW TO BE RIGHT
421

Eight REDUCTIO AD UNLIKELY 13
131
Nine THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL
145
Ten ARE YOU THERE GOD2 ITS
163
PART III
193
Acknowledgments
439
Index
459
Copyright

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About the author (2014)

Jordan Ellenberg is the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His writing has appeared in Slate, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the Believer.

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