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How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking Hardcover – May 29 2014

4.2 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press (May 29 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594205221
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594205224
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 2.7 x 24.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 717 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #20,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

The New York Times:
“Lively prose….Refreshingly lucid while still remaining conceptually rigorous, this book lends insight into how mathematicians think — and shows us how we can start to think like mathematicians as well.”

Manil Suri, The Washington Post:
“Brilliantly engaging.... Ellenberg’s talent for finding real-life situations that enshrine mathematical principles would be the envy of any math teacher. He presents these in fluid succession, like courses in a fine restaurant, taking care to make each insight shine through, unencumbered by jargon or notation. Part of the sheer intellectual joy of the book is watching the author leap nimbly from topic to topic, comparing slime molds to the Bush-Gore Florida vote, criminology to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The final effect is of one enormous mosaic unified by mathematics.”

Mario Livio, The Wall Street Journal:
“Easy-to-follow, humorously presented.... This book will help you to avoid the pitfalls that result from not having the right tools. It will help you realize that mathematical reasoning permeates our lives—that it can be, as Mr. Ellenberg writes, a kind of 'X-ray specs that reveal hidden structures underneath the messy and chaotic surface of the world.'”

Evelyn Lamb, Scientific American:
“Witty, compelling, and just plain fun to read.... How Not to Be Wrong can help you explore your mathematical superpowers.”

Laura Miller, Salon:
“A poet-mathematician offers an empowering and entertaining primer for the age of Big Data.... A rewarding popular math book for just about anyone.”

Nature:
“Mathematicians from Charles Lutwidge Dodgson to Steven Strogatz have celebrated the power of mathematics in life and the imagination. In this hugely enjoyable exploration of everyday maths as 'an atomic-powered prosthesis that you attach to your common sense', Jordan Ellenberg joins their ranks. Ellenberg, an academic and Slate’s ‘Do the Math’ columnist, explains key principles with erudite gusto—whether poking holes in predictions of a US 'obesity apocalypse', or unpicking an attempt by psychologist B. F. Skinner to prove statistically that Shakespeare was a dud at alliteration.”

Bloomberg View:
“If you have a vacation coming up in August and you’re looking for a fun book to read that will also enlighten you, it would be hard to beat Jordan Ellenberg’s How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.”

Times Higher Education:
“A fresh application of complex mathematical thinking to commonplace events.... How Not to Be Wrong is beautifully written, holding the reader’s attention throughout with well-chosen material, illuminating exposition, wit and helpful examples. I am reminded of the great writer of recreational mathematics, Martin Gardner: Ellenberg shares Gardner’s remarkable ability to write clearly and entertainingly, bringing in deep mathematical ideas without the reader registering their difficulty.”

Kirkus Reviews:
“The author avoids heavy jargon and relies on real-world anecdotes and basic equations and illustrations to communicate how even simple math is a powerful tool….[Ellenberg]writes that, at its core, math is a special thing and produces a feeling of understanding unattainable elsewhere: ‘You feel you’ve reached into the universe’s guts and put your hand on the wire.’ Math is profound, and profoundly awesome, so we should use it well—or risk being wrong….Witty and expansive, Ellenberg’s math will leave readers informed, intrigued and armed with plenty of impressive conversation starters.”

Booklist:
“Readers will indeed marvel at how often mathematics sheds unexpected light on economics (assessing the performance of investment advisors), public health (predicting the likely prevalence of obesity in 30 years), and politics (explaining why wealthy individuals vote Republican but affluent states go for Democrats). Relying on remarkably few technical formulas, Ellenberg writes with humor and verve as he repeatedly demonstrates that mathematics simply extends common sense. He manages to translate even the work of theoretical pioneers such as Cantor and Gödel into the language of intelligent amateurs. The surprises that await readers include not only a discovery of the astonishing versatility of mathematical thinking but also a realization of its very real limits. Mathematics, as it turns out, simply cannot resolve the real-world ambiguities surrounding the Bush-Gore cliff-hanger of 2000, nor can it resolve the much larger question of God’s existence. A bracing encounter with mathematics that matters.”

Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; author of How the Mind Works:
“The title of this wonderful book explains what it adds to the honorable genre of popular writing on mathematics. Like Lewis Carroll, George Gamow, and Martin Gardner before him, Jordan Ellenberg shows how mathematics can delight and stimulate the mind. But he also shows that mathematical thinking should be in the toolkit of every thoughtful person—of everyone who wants to avoid fallacies, superstitions, and other ways of being wrong.”

Steven Strogatz, Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics, Cornell University, and author, The Joy of x:
“With math as with anything else, there’s smart, and then there’s street smart. This book will help you be both. Fans of Freakonomics and The Signal and the Noise will love Ellenberg’s surprising stories, snappy writing, and brilliant lessons in numerical savvy. How Not to Be Wrong is sharp, funny, and right.”

John Allen Paulos, author of Innumeracy and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper:
“Through a powerful mathematical lens Jordan Ellenberg engagingly examines real-world issues ranging from the fetishizing of straight lines in the reporting of obesity to the game theory of missing flights, from the relevance to digestion of regression to the mean to the counter-intuitive Berkson’s paradox, which may explain why handsome men don’t seem to be as nice as not so handsome ones. The coverage is broad, but not shallow and the exposition is non-technical and sprightly.”

Timothy Gowers:
“Jordan Ellenberg is a top mathematician and a wonderful expositor, and the theme of his book is important and timely. How Not to Be Wrong is destined to be a classic.”

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex:
“Jordan Ellenberg promises to share ways of thinking that are both simple to grasp and profound in their implications, and he delivers in spades. These beautifully readable pages delight and enlighten in equal parts. Those who already love math will eat it up, and those who don’t yet know how lovable math is are in for a most pleasurable surprise."

Danica McKellar, actress and bestselling author of Math Doesn’t Suck and Kiss My Math:
"Brilliant and fascinating! Ellenberg shows his readers how to magnify common sense using the tools usually only accessible to those who have studied higher mathematics. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in expanding their worldly savviness—and math IQ!"

About the Author

Jordan Ellenberg is the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has lectured around the world on his research in number theory and delivered one of the plenary addresses at the 2013 Joint Mathematics Meetings, the largest math conference in the world. His writing has appeared in WiredThe New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Wall Street JournalThe Boston Globe, and The Believer, and he has been featured on the Today show and NPR’s All Things Considered. He writes a popular column called “Do the Math” for Slate.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In this tome, which has over 430 pages of main text, the author discusses mathematical thought processes which are often applied in everyday life. It would be a lengthy exercise to list all of the topics that are touched upon here, but the overall theme is the use of mathematical ways of thinking in order to understand various observations in the world around us. The book includes several useful figures and tables but very few formulas, the emphasis being on the thought process rather than the blind application of formulas to observed phenomena.

I found the author’s writing style to be very lively, friendly, authoritative, often witty and quite captivating. The text is also generally accessible, although I had to re-read some passages a few times to allow certain explanations to eventually sink in.

I believe that this book can be enjoyed by a very broad readership. Although math/science enthusiasts may relish this book more than the average general reader, I do believe that everyone, even those who are math-phobic, stand to learn much from this work about the true nature of mathematics.

As a final note, I agree with a prior reviewer who pointed out that, although the book’s title is quite catchy, a more appropriate one would have actually been its subtitle.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Just my type of book. A perfect mix of math and it's influence on history, sociology and politics. Really allows you to reflect on all these important topics with a sense of rigor only a mathematician can appreciate!
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Format: Kindle Edition
3.5 Stars...

University of Wisconsin professor and veritable numbers genius, Jordan Ellenberg, asserts that math “is like an atomic-powered prosthesis that you attach to your common sense, vastly multiplying its reach and strength.” We can’t all be mathematicians he writes, but we certainly ought to try. Ellenberg's (sometimes too) demanding but thought-provoking book demonstrates how to help our brains use mathematical principles as a guide to accurate thinking about the world.

"How Not to Be Wrong" contains five sections, each featuring a math concept that can apply to real life: linearity, inference, expectation, regression, and existence. In linearity, Ellenberg counters our instinctive belief that life moves in straight lines. Will raising tax rates lead to higher or lower tax revenues? It depends. Inference teases out unexpected insights: during the controversial 2009 Iranian election, why did the number seven show up twice as often as would be expected in a fair vote?

Ellenberg also shows that a knack for asking the right questions can avoid mistakes; it is all too easy to be arithmetically correct but mathematically wrong. He warns that many scientific research studies may prove worthless because of the method used to calculate the reliability of the results. He explains why red-hot hitters inevitably cool off and why hugely successful businesses always lose their edge over time.

A challenging but welcome companion to anyone interested in the art of numbers.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The title is misleading. This book is not about being right or wrong, but about being able to better understand all the information that is coming at us.

It is kind of a Malcom Gladwell style book for engineers and scientists. It is full of interesting vignettes.

I will never look at weather forecasts or mutual funds the same way again.

Although there are not many calculations in the book, the book is easier to read if you have a moderate understanding of math.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great book, I find people expect too much from the book perhaps because of its unique title "How not to be wrong" but should focus on the latter portion "The power of Mathematical Thinking". This book emphasizes the importance of math in our daily lives whether its reading about the next drug for diabetics, government healthcare policy to even understanding how to beat the lottery.
PROS- Extremely interesting examples, application of mathematics and an emphasis on thinking beyond the norm
CONS- Some of the authors points are weakened by the constant overlapping of different stories

In summary, Jordan Ellenberg states that "Mathematics is the extension of common sense by other means", I couldn't agree more. This book provides a strong perspective on identifying all the areas in life where math touches us and the importance of using it to help us. Whether you're a math major or a complete novice, take the time to read this book, it will change your perspective on math and also the world.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the best science/logic books I have ever read. It helped to solidify concepts with which I struggled in my youth. The book made math more approachable and evermore interesting. Amazing.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very good book. One of those that should be mandatory reading in high school. Everywhere!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I really looked forward to enjoying this book but I am also finding the gratuitous and lazy moralizing to be off-putting, as well as the blatant political partisanship, none of which is essential to the points being made. Apart from that, the presentation of ideas is okay so far (I'm a couple of chapters in) but I find the writing too rambling. He is no Emerson. Good ideas but a fair amount of overhead to read this.
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