A while ago I was talking to my friend Tim, who I met when writing for The GIST (the Glasgow Insight into Science and Technology, a science magazine and outreach organisation). Tim told me that as well as finishing his thesis for his maths PhD he’d agreed to write a book about mathematics. If you know Tim, you’ll understand why I wasn’t in the least bit surprised.
Tim handed in his thesis, had the shortest viva I’d ever heard of and graduated. A few months later his book launched. This happened when I was in the middle of writing my thesis and unlike Tim, I’m not superhuman, so I decided to postpone reading his book until after I’d finished. Which I did.
It turns out that Tim’s book is a strong contender for the best nonfiction book I’ve read this year. It’s extremely readable as well as light-hearted and funny. Consider this a warning: Little is more embarrassing than laughing aloud whilst reading a maths book in public.
Although the subjects covered are often technically very complex, Tim has the skill to get directly to the heart of why the mathematics is so fascinating and from there highlights its significance.
I found it hard to believe that a book about mathematics could be this entertaining. I was proven wrong. It made me laugh and it showed me new ways of thinking about mathematics I was already familiar with, as well as introducing a few totally new concepts.
The book introduces a series of concepts, explains the problem that led to the need for mathematics to solve it and then explains how important the problem is and discusses a few unexpected consequences of this. My favourite was the section on Benford’s law, with the additional section at the end hammering home how satisfying Benford’s law really is.
I hope I get to read more by Tim in the future. I’d like to take the opportunity to request a chapter on infinities. Please?
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