Reviews for Joy of X : A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity


Booklist Reviews 2012 September #2
When Strogatz invites grade-schoolers to construct Möbius strips with scissors, crayons, and tape, he is not expecting them to discover revolutionary new mathematical principles. But he does expect them to experience the kind of intellectual joy that sustains a lifetime of mathematical inquiry. Readers share that joy by joining Strogatz on a high-spirited romp through complex numbers, standard deviations, infinite sums, differential equations, and other mathematical playgrounds. The math arrives in such delightful episodes--a hike through a snow-covered field, for example, or an excited dinner conversation over symbols scribbled on a napkin--and is so often connected to poetry, sports, and popular TV shows that even math phobes will find themselves swept up in the fun. (Who knew that The Sopranos could help us fathom calculus?) To be sure, Strogatz occasionally points well-schooled readers to the rigorous analyses identified in his endnotes. But even those reluctant to venture into deeper waters will finish this book with a new relish for mathematics as a thrilling adventure, not a dreary chore. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

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Choice Reviews 2013 April
Authors who popularize mathematics face the challenge of presenting ideas clearly without getting bogged down by extensive formulas or conceptual rigor. Noted mathematician Strogatz (Cornell) does so admirably, presenting 30 brief essays (several adapted from his columns in The New York Times), always with a focus on the inherent "joy" of each topic. Readers will appreciate the pleasant conversational tone and illustrative stories that anchor his discussions. While some concepts are predictably presented, like whispering galleries and elliptical billiard tables in connection with conic sections, others are refreshingly unexpected, like the love-hate relationship between Romeo and Juliet to illustrate harmonic oscillators. Other interesting relations include fractions and filling bathtubs; group theory and mattress flipping; and optimization and trudging through the snow. Clever considerations in chapter 6, "Location, Location, Location," take one from the Roman numerals found on the base of Ezra Cornell's statue to the beauty of the place value system; even technical concepts like the del, div, and curl operators are presented in a nonthreatening way in connection with iron filings, floating cork pieces, and weather maps. Strogatz meets his goal of providing a refreshing view of mathematics that gets readers to appreciate the joy behind the concepts without needing to "do" mathematics. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and lower-division undergraduates. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates. N. W. Schillow formerly, Lehigh Carbon Community College Copyright 2013 American Library Association.

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Kirkus Reviews 2012 August #2
A neat survey of the major fields of math by a professor adept at writing both popularizations and textbooks. Strogatz (Applied Mathematics/Cornell Univ.; Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order, 2003, etc.) begins with counting and a reference to a Sesame Street video called 123 Count with Me, "the best introduction to numbers I've ever seen." Throughout the book, the author never loses sight of the mystique and charm of numbers, and at the end, he explores concepts of infinity. There, Strogatz includes a classic proof of why some infinite systems of numbers contain more numbers than other infinite systems, an idea that shocked 19th-century mathematicians as much as the concept of imaginary numbers (the square roots of negative numbers) shocked their peers a century earlier. What's remarkable about the author's approach is that he conveys so much of the basic essences of the topics he covers, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, probability theory, vector analysis and group theory, and he often stresses intuition and visualization. His discussion of the Pythagorean theorem expertly shows how the squares on the sides of a right triangle can be added to make the square on the hypotenuse. Not surprisingly, Strogatz also emphasizes the utility of math, quoting the physicist Eugene Wigner on "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences." In many cases, however, the author states the utility as a matter of fact rather than something to be proved--e.g., the ripples on a pond, the ridges of a sand dune and the stripes of a zebra, which reflect "the emergence of sinusoidal structure from a background of bland uniformity." To learn why, readers should dig into the math more deeply. A great book for the bright and curious, including even kids at grade school level up to college and beyond. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2012 May #2

Strogatz, a Cornell professor of applied mathematics, shows that math is intimately involved with art, science, business, and humdrum, everyday life in ways you might never have imagined. Not just for a select audience; Strogatz's New York Times column, "The Elements of Math," which appeared online in 2010, always made the most-emailed list and got hundreds of comments. With a 50,000-copy first printing.

[Page 60]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Library Journal Reviews 2012 October #2

Most people either love or hate mathematics, and much of the latter group's ill will can be traced to a poor presentation of the subject in grade school. In this book, frequent RadioLab guest Strogatz (applied mathematics, Cornell Univ.; Sync: How Order Emerges from Chaos in the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life) makes a tremendous effort to remedy those past failings in math education. He is not afraid to include formulas, but he eschews calculation in favor of intuitive explanation. Each topic is presented clearly, spiced by humorous asides and accompanied by a selection of useful sources of additional information both in print and online for those who want to know more about the subject. VERDICT This most entertaining popular mathematics book of recent years is highly recommended, particularly for educated laypeople looking to repair past antimath prejudices or middle school students just starting their mathematical education. [See Prepub Alert, 5/15/12.]--Harold D. Shane, formerly with Baruch Coll., CUNY

[Page 98]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 July #2

Even the most math-phobic readers might forget their dread after just a few pages of Strogatz's (The Calculus of Friendship) latest. The author, a Cornell professor of applied mathematics, begins with arithmetic, by way of Sesame Street, then explores algebra, geometry, and, finally, the wonders of calculus--all done cheerfully, with many a wry turn of phrase. From addition and subtraction, with a glimpse into negative numbers and "the black art of borrowing," it's a quick step into the hardcore detective work of algebra's search for the unknown x, with algorithms like the quadratic equation, "the Rodney Dangerfield of algebra" ("it don't get no respect"). Strogatz rhapsodizes over geometry, which he sees as a marriage of logic and intuition that teaches how to build arguments, step by rigorous step, and geometry's "loosey-goosey" offshoot, topology. Brisk chapters on prime numbers, basic statistics, and probability are all enlightening without being intimidating. Most impressive is Strogatz's coverage of calculus, the math used to figure out everything from how fast epidemics spread to the trajectory of a curveball. Readers will appreciate this lighthearted and thoroughly entertaining book. Illus. (Oct.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC

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