Ellenberg, Jordan -- How Not To Be Wrong

An engaging treatise about mathematics in ordinary life. The author is a mathematician and, er, math-pop writer -- is that the right term? He has a column in Slate, anyhow. He's enthusiastic about his subject, and he is able to enthuse about it without requiring the lay reader to follow him into the depths. The book is written in a hands-on way, but you can follow it with no more than high-school algebra -- as long as the idea of a little algebra in ordinary life doesn't scare you. And it shouldn't.

Most of the math is statistics, which makes sense, as statistics is the most familiar way in which math crops up day-to-day. You read about some scientific study (Facebook has just provided a newsworthy example), and it's got a sample size and a significance number. So what do we think about that? One should have a clue. There are deep arguments to be had, and the book runs back to the founding philosophers of statistics to sketch them; then it runs forward to the details of a lottery scam (or "scam") which ran in Massachusetts just a few years ago. And then it runs around through politics (elections!) and political science (making decisions based on statistical studies!) It's all pleasantly digressive, but math is the binding thread.

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