Browsing category reviews

Review: Genius at Play, by Siobhan Roberts

It turns out, I made an error in Cracking Mathematics. Not (in this case) a mathematical or historical error, although there are plenty of those1 but an error of etiquette: my potted biography of John Horton Conway emphasised the Game of Life above the rest of his work; I imagine

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Review: The Mathematics Lover’s Companion, by Edward Scheinerman

There is a danger, when your book comes plastered in praise from people like Art Benjamin and Ron Graham, that reviewers will hold it to a higher standard than a book that doesn't. That would be unfair, and I'll try to avoid that. What it does well This is a

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Quickfire reviews

As I happened to be in London last week, I took an afternoon to visit the Science Museum and, especially, the Winton Gallery exhibit on Mathematics. Maths! In the Science Museum! What a treat! Or so I hoped. The Winton Gallery: Mathematics There's a bit in Surely You're Joking, Mr

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Review: The QAMA Calculator

It’s billed as the calculator that won’t think until you do: if you give it something to evaluate, it will refuse to give you an answer until you give it an acceptable approximation. On the surface, that’s a great idea. If I had a coffee for every time I’ve rolled

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Review: Is This Prime?

Is This Prime? is probably the most infuriating, addictive, revolting and unbearably simple games that has ever disgraced my computer screen. I love it, hate it, am glad of its existence and wish it had never been written. It’s pretty tough to think of a simpler premise: you’re given an

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Review: Turing’s Cathedral, by George Dyson

One of the key measures of how much I like a book is how quickly I get through it. Turing’s Cathedral went back to the library today after having being renewed the maximum of three times; I did finish it, but only just. I can’t put my finger on what

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Review: Mathador Chronos

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Countdown numbers game, a challenge pitched just perfectly right for my mental capacities. It would take a very good numbers game to displace Countdown in my heart. Mathador is a very good numbers game1 with similarities to Countdown: you’re given a batch

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Review: The Joy of $x$, by Steven Strogatz

In terms of tone and style, The Joy of $x$ is an absolute delight — Strogatz has a knack for finding the right analogy and the right anecdote that is the envy of maths writers everywhere. It’s an enjoyable read, and I’d recommend it to anyone who thinks “I’d love

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Review: The Ideas Factory, by Jon Gertner

It was an incredible idea: gather together as many really smart people as possible and set them to work on discovering the essential nature of things. At least, it was an incredible idea around the time of Pythagoras, or the time of the House of Wisdom, or any time anyone

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Review: Birth of a Theorem, by Cédric Villani

It’s a best-seller in France, apparently: the wild-haired but immaculately-dressed Fields Medallist’s story of how he and his colleague solved the Landau damping problem. But therein lies my difficulty with it: I don’t know about, or especially care about, the Landau damping problem. It’s a McGuffin: it might as well

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