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.
Underlying the playful stories that make this book so gloriously, surprisingly readable is a passionate argument for the core discipline of managing uncertainty in decision-making ... In short, we dismiss maths at our peril, and this book charmingly, persuasively puts us straight. If only they'd taught maths like this at school (James McConnachie Sunday Times)
There are plenty of popular maths books around, but this one strikes a particularly fine balance between rigour and accessibility. There are complex ideas here, but Ellenberg has a gift for finding real-life examples... His easy style is lucid and witty. If only all maths lessons were like this (Orlando Bird Financial Times)
The title of this wonderful book explains what it adds to the honorable genre of popular writing on mathematics. Like Lewis Carroll, George Gamow, and Martin Gardner before him, Jordan Ellenberg shows how mathematics can delight and stimulate the mind. But he also shows that mathematical thinking should be in the toolkit of every thoughtful person-of everyone who wants to avoid fallacies, superstitions, and other ways of being wrong (Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works)
Beautiful... Mr. Ellenberg's book is chock-full of gems. His easy-to-follow, humorously presented examples range from analyzing the wisdom of buying lottery tickets to the effects of chaos on weather forecasts, from tests on how Shakespeare used alliteration in his sonnets to the economic advantages of being late to flights (Wall Street Journal)
If you feel bamboozled by figures, you can think like a mathematician without actually being one. An engaging and clear explanation of some of the tricks of the trade, and how they help you spot errors of numerical reasoning in politics, religion, and finance. A gripping read! (Ian Stewart, author of Seventeen Equations that Changed the World)
Jordan Ellenberg promises to share ways of thinking that are both simple to grasp and profound in their implications, and he delivers in spades. These beautifully readable pages delight and enlighten in equal parts. Those who already love math will eat it up, and those who don't yet know how lovable math is are in for a most pleasurable surprise (Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex)
Brilliantly engaging... Ellenberg's talent for finding real-life situations that enshrine mathematical principles would be the envy of any math teacher. He presents these in fluid succession, like courses in a fine restaurant, taking care to make each insight shine through, unencumbered by jargon or notation. Part of the sheer intellectual joy of the book is watching the author leap nimbly from topic to topic... The final effect is of one enormous mosaic unified by mathematics (Washington Post)
With math as with anything else, there's smart, and then there's street smart. This book will help you be both. Fans of Freakonomics and The Signal and the Noise will love Ellenberg's surprising stories, snappy writing, and brilliant lessons in numerical savvy. How Not to Be Wrong is sharp, funny, and right (Steven Strogatz, author of The Joy of X)
Ellenberg writes with remarkable flair and humour. His deft, witty, colloquial prose often makes one laugh... So great are Jordan Ellenberg's gifts of exposition and insight that one hopes for many more books from him as excellent and entertaining as How Not To Be Wrong (Peter Pesic Times Literary Supplement)