The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math from One to Infinity by Steven Strogatz
Dates Read: June 20, 2018 – January 12, 2019
Synopsis: Did O.J. do it? How should you flip your mattress to get the maximum wear out of it? How does Google search the Internet? How many people should you date before settling down? Believe it or not, math plays a crucial role in answering all of these questions and more.
Math underpins everything in the cosmos, including us, yet too few of us understand this universal language well enough to revel in its wisdom, its beauty — and its joy. This deeply enlightening, vastly entertaining volume translates math in a way that is at once intelligible and thrilling. Each trenchant chapter of The Joy of x offers an “aha!” moment, starting with why numbers are so helpful, and progressing through the wondrous truths implicit in π, the Pythagorean theorem, irrational numbers, fat tails, even the rigors and surprising charms of calculus. Showing why he has won awards as a professor at Cornell and garnered extensive praise for his articles about math for the New York Times, Strogatz presumes of his readers only curiosity and common sense. And he rewards them with clear, ingenious, and often funny explanations of the most vital and exciting principles of his discipline.
I’m going to keep this review short and sweet because (1) I’m willing to bet money that most of the people who read this blog aren’t thaaat interested in math and (2) it took me for-ev-er to finish this book and want to be truly done with it as soon as possible.
Strogatz is a good writer and teacher. He explains concepts in such a way that people who aren’t super familiar with them could probably understand them — I say “probably” because he does get into calculus and logarithms and things that a lot of people never encounter in school. I was one of those rare English majors who took math classes as electives because they’d be ~easy and straightforward~. So I find math interesting; it can be fun if you don’t let it get too overwhelming. He goes through good examples to explain things, and good examples make those concepts memorable.
Math can be beautiful when you really think about it. Everything involves math, even when we don’t realize it. The universe runs on math, basically. It’s crazy and lovely at the same time. Even if you “don’t get math,” you have to admit that it’s very, very important.
Favorite Quote: Some imaginary friends you never outgrow. (58)