- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Fsg Adult; First Edition edition (April 7 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780809052196
- ISBN-13: 978-0809052196
- ASIN: 0809052199
- Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 2.9 x 22.8 cm
- Shipping Weight: 476 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,692,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Group Theory In The Bedroom And Hardcover – Apr 1 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
In charming prose that more or less makes up for the relative lack of rigor in many of his explorations, about which Hayes is refreshingly honest (I see no reason to doubt this assumption, at least as an approximation, but I also have no evidence to support it), science and technology journalist Hayes (Infrastructure) explains the engineering and arithmetic of clocks and gears, wracks his brain over questions of how best to flip a mattress and visits the prettiest wrong idea in all of twentieth-century science... the vision of piglets suckling on messenger RNA. As he examines huge calculating tables rendered obsolete by computers, Hayes cannot help wondering which of my labors will appear equally quaint and pathetic to some future reader. This observation is echoed by the afterwords where Hayes addresses pointed questions and observations from readers, displaying a brave willingness to admit error and acknowledge advances made since these pieces were first published in the Sciences and American Scientist. Present-day readers would do best to approach this collection more for its literary merits than its revelation of obscure history or cutting-edge mathematical theory. 41 b&w illus. (Apr.)
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The essays contained in this book, addressing topics such as the genetic code, the Continental Divide and randomness, among other topics, vary widely in subject matter, but share a common underlying theme. Specifically, each of these essays asks the reader to examine "things," such as the genetic code, from a unique perspective. Moreover, Hayes pulls the reader through a thoughtful and insightful problem framing approach that has broad applications across many disciplines.
I found the content and style across each essay to be first-rate. This book teaches the reader many things...most importantly, I feel it offers rare insight into the power of shifting perspective and framing problems.
I have similar problems with the other chapters; he interweaves the theory of gear ratios in clocks with that of rational approximations (a natutal fit) but never really explains the mathematics, and instead its more of a story about how he tracked down the original historical sources of where gear ratios were first calculated ...
The chatty and informal style would have worked better in a magazine column, which is where these came from.
If you want a book about mathematics which itself contains virtually no mathematics, and you want something light and easily read, which covers a wide range of topics, sure.
If you know what a "group" is (or a continued fraction) and want to see if he brings a new twist to these old subjects, I think you will be diappointed.
When looking at the top or bottom of the book, it is obvious from the different colors (orange and semi-white) that the publisher "Hill and Wang", are too cheap to even attempt to implement any quality control.
This is not a comment on the content of the book, but a the quality of the publishing house. At a list price of $25.00, one would think they could get enough of same paper to print an entire book. At the pricing of Hardcopy books, I expect better quality. "Hill and Wang" is NOT a quality publisher.
This book has none of these flaws, and it is one I would have happily received as a gift. It's a fascinating collection of essays about applied and computational mathematics. Brian Hayes has chosen topics that haven't been beaten to death by other authors, and written thoughtful pieces about all of them. Stand-out chapters for me included the chapter on coming up with an algorithm for computing the location of the watershed in a terrain, and an essay tracing the succession of failed attempts to solve the genetic code. The watershed chapter is great, because the author describes how he tried to solve the problem over the course of a vacation without access to a library to see what the "right answer" is, and he records his missteps and failed attempts to come up with an algorithm. It's a great glimpse at how problem-solving works: so few mathematicians are prepared to let you in on the process including the failed attempts that allowed them to build their elegant structure, be it a proof, algorithm, or solution.
The level assumed of the reader is such that a college student or eager high school student would probably get a lot from the book. There are very few equations and no program code snippets, which is generally the right choice. The book is very well written: it doesn't shy from the technical details where relevant, but you never feel like you're reading a dry textbook.
All of the essays have appeared in magazines before this book came out. This means that the author has already received feedback from readers about each essay, and he includes a postscript after each chapter with interesting points that arose in correspondence from readers. This means that the essays have already been checked for glaring omissions and oversights, which is great, and the additional commentary adds a lot to each chapter.
But I don't like the book's title: it looks like a publisher's idea of something that will grab people's attention to make them pick the book up, but when I saw it at the bookstore I just thought "definitely trying too hard -- skip that one". (Similarly, I really wish science book publishers would stop including Einstein's name in the title of their books with the barest thread of justification: it's an excellent sign that the book is terrible.) The relevant chapter is about mattress-flipping, by the way.
But in spite of that, great book. When's Brian Hayes' next collection of essays coming out?