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A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper Paperback – Sep 26 1997

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (Sept. 26 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038548254X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385482547
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.6 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #465,923 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Math professor Paulos's irreverent investigation of the often faulty use of statistics and fact in newspaper articles.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.


... this book should be mandatory reading for every journalist - as well as the readers, viewers and former tutors they supposedly serve. -- Robert Matthews, New Scientist, 1995

A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper is irresistible. -- Rudy Rucker, Scientific American, 1995

Although the combination of math and newspapers sounds uniquely unappetizing, John Allen Paulos creates a truly thought- provoking book from that mixture. -- USA Today, Best Bet, 1995

But the dirty secret about the media's contribution to American "Innumeracy," first examined in a delightful book by that title by John Allen Paulos, is about to be revealed in his sequel, "A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. -- Max Frankel, New York Times, 1995

Even better, Paulos' wit and humor - admirably displayed in Innumeracy - are in top form. His irreverent and pointed comments entertain as well as educate. Though Paulos writes about a bewildering number of topics, he has something fresh and interesting to say about each. -- Charles Seife, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1995

In his new book, the mathematician John Allen Paulos continues his witty crusade against mathematical illiteracy ...... Mr. Paulos's little essay explaining the Banzhaf power index and how it relates to Lani Guinier's ideas about empowering minorities is itself worth the price of the book. -- Richard Bernstein, New York Times, 1995

It would be great to have John Allen Paulos living next door. Every morning when you read the paper and came across some story that didn't seem quite right - that had the faint odor of illogic hovering about it - you could just lean out the window and shout, "Jack! Get the hell over here!"..... Paulos, who wrote the bestseller Innumeracy (the mathematical equivalent of illiteracy), has now written a fun, spunky, wise little book that would be helpful to both the consumers of the news and its purveyors. -- Joel Achenbach, Washington Post, 1995

Paulos uses his considerable talents and a breezy style to discuss many ways to apply simple, or at least simply explained, mathematics and logic to analyze the contents of the newspaper. ... the book is a compendium of unusually sound advice, which, if widely read and understood, could improve a lot more for us than the way we read the newspaper. -- Journal of the American Medical Association, 1995

This book will bring a great deal of pleasure to many - as it did to the reviewer. It is full of fun, full of information, full of insights. -- Peter Hilton, American mathematics Monthly, 1995

This is press criticism, but not of the usual kind .... This is press criticism of the sort that George Orwell had in mind when he observed that what's important isn't news, and what's news isn't important. ..... This is a subversive book. Paulos argues that the world is so complex that it cannot be accurately described, much less manipulated. ...... a wise and thoughtful book, which skewers much of what everyone knows to be true. -- Lee Dembart, Los Angeles Times, 1995

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on June 4 2003
Format: Paperback
I found Professor Paulos's book, Innumeracy, to be a delightful expression of the key elements of mathematical ignorance that can be harmful, along with many new ways to see and think about the world around. You can imagine how much more pleased I was to find that A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper is an improvement over that valuable book. Every editor and newspaper writer should be required to read and apply this book before beginning their careers. Almost all those who love the news will find some new appreciation for how it could be better reported. Those who will benefit most are those with the least amount of background in math, logic and psychology. Although the subjects are often related to math, if you can multiple two numbers together using a calculator you will probably understand almost all of the sections. If you already know math well, this book will probably only provide amusement in isolated examples and you may not find it has enough new to really educate you. Most of the points are regularly treated in the mathematics literature.
In the introduction, Professor Paulos reveals a long and abiding love for newspapers. And he reads a lot of them. He subscribes to the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times, skims the Wall Street Journal and the Philadelphia Daily News, and occasionally looks at USA Today (he likes weather maps in color on occasion), the Washington Post, the suburban Ambler Gazette, the Bar Harbor Times, the local paper of any city he is in, and the tabloids.
This knowledge is reflected in the book's structure. There are four sections, reflecting the typical four section format of many weekday papers.
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Format: Paperback
Paulos did a fine job with his previous book, Innumeracy. However, this book falls short. I was hoping to see concrete examples of news stories "gone mathematically bad," and then have Paulos show what was wrong with those stories. However, the examples used were more ambiguous -- i.e., general stories about certain topics. It was even more frustrating given that his chapter titles appeared to promise some concrete news story, but then failed to deliver. For example, "Afta Nafta, Lafta" had nothing to do with NAFTA or free trade. While it did provide some less-than-illuminating discussion about how details tend to come after the headline and first paragraph, I failed to see how any of this related to a substantive topic. Also, the preceeding chapter about economic forecasts came to the remarkably banal conclusion that reality can be more complex than simple models, illustrated by a transformationof the Laffer Curve into a squiggly line. OK, fine, but how about an admission that Laffer's analysis came with the standard "ceteris paribus" clause that all social scientists should be familiar with. And how about citing empirical investigations that test Laffer's predictions while controlling for confounding factors?
There are some good lessons scattered throughout this book, but as a previous reviewer said, it does tend to be scattered and lacking any common thread. Joel Best's "Damned Lies and Statistics" is a much better read.
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Format: Paperback
Exploring once again the numerical ignorance of the American society,Paulos examines serious realities and the potentially harmful consequencesof the lack of a basic number sense in the general population. From supposed experts "explaining" the economy and the recent actions of the stock markets to sheer guesses given as hard facts, so much of our lives is affected by incorrect suppositions. It also points out how many jobs in our society are economically irrelevant in a very real sense.
Consider the section entitled "Darts Trounce the Pros: Luck and the Stock Market," where stocks were picked by throwing darts and the results compared to that of the "pros." Over a six-month period, the choices performed by the random process has a 42 percent gain as opposed to the Dow Jones rate of 8 percent and the experts rate of 2.2 percent. As time went on, the gains tended to move toward equality, but the reality is that those stocks picked by market watchers generally match the behavior of a random selection. In other words, money spent on "expert" stock advice is essentially wasted, with the obvious exception of insider trading.
Economic forecasts are also subjected to a similar investigation. In a convoluted world economy, where the behavior is essentially chaotic, it is impossible to predict what the future behavior will be. Recently, the executive and legislative branches of the U. S. government have been pounding each other over their separate long term predictions of the behavior of the U.S. economy. Such "knowledge" is being used in the attempt to balance the budget of the U.S. federal government.
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Format: Paperback
Should be required reading for journalists, and, since it isn't, the rest of us should read it so we'll recognize how we are being misled by journalists' ignorance.
Using actual stories covered in the various sections of the newspaper, Paulos explains mathematical concepts that should have been considered by the reporter. He says that, in addition to the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, reporters should ask how many, how does that quantity compare with other quantities, are we looking at the right categories and relationships, are the statistics derived from a random sample or a collection of anecdotes...
One example Paulos provides shows how readers can be misled by numbers, especially if the reporter uses the numbers provided by a biased source. In a story about contamination, suppose a pint of a toxic chemical were spilled in the ocean and the chemical becomes evenly dispersed around the globe. Seems like a minuscule amount of contamination, and not worth worrying about. But, if the ocean water were tested, it would show almost 6,000 molecules of that toxic chemical in a pint of water. Now, it looks like a reason to panic.
Although not an easy read, most of the math is simply and entertainingly presented, and occasional dull passages are short and easily skipped.
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