Friday, January 7, 2011

Book Review: The Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouellette

By Ruby Johnson

Jennifer Ouellette says she never took Mathematics in college, because she assumed she wouldn’t need it in real life. As an award winning science writer, and wife of a physicist, she decided to take a second look at the equations she had avoided for years. The Calculus Diaries is a delightful account of a year spent confronting her anxiety.

Seeing the mathematics behind the famous question of why two objects, regardless of mass, fall at the same rate, Jennifer realized that the math behind physics was not as frightening and difficult as she thought. The result is The Calculus Diaries where Jennifer uses concepts from calculus to explore everything from the odds of losing weight and winning big in Los Vegas to the likelihood of surviving a zombie apocalypse.

From the first chapter, when she describes the discovery of Archimedes earliest known written work which developed into integral calculus to the interesting anecdotes she keeps the reader turning the pages.

Probably one of my favorite anecdotes in the book was Nick the Greek’s presentation of Albert Einstein to his Las Vegas pals as “Little Al from Princeton, controls a lotta the action out in Jersey.”

But in the end this is a book to demystify much of higher mathematics. The author shows how this applies in everyday life from taking on a mortgage to beating the odds in Las Vegas. She describes the example of the game of craps and how the odds are stacked slightly in favor of the house. She even shows parallels between the 17th century tulip mania and our current real estate crisis of today, by illustrating the calculus associated with bubble markets and interest rates. While I was interested in the topics listed in the subtitles, I was blown away by how calculus has shaped our culture and how prevalent it is in what we do on a daily basis.This book offers anyone, with or without a math phobia, interesting and helpful information.                                                                                                                                                 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This looks like an interesting book. I can't wait to read it.

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