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Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz: Making Light of Weighty Ideas Paperback – October 17, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (October 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393329313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393329315
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #461,614 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As if they were comedy-club stand-ups, Burger and Starbird employ puns and silly scenarios to tickle those who wouldn't ordinarily pick up a math book. Everyone, however fearful of the topic, uses math in daily life. Two popular fixations with numbers that the authors home in on include the amazing similarities between John Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln and playing the lottery. Describing the easy math beneath superficially wondrous things, often no more complicated than enumeration and arithmetic, Burger and Starbird dispel the astounding to reveal what a little logical rigor can do, and they use their schtick to keep things light. Avoiding alarming announcements, they never charge headlong into a topic such as the Golden Ratio, but circumscribe it by counting swirls on pineapples and noting the ratio's frequent appearance in nature and in art. Likewise, Burger and Starbird don't bludgeon readers with number theory, geometry, or topology; they take up origami or spin a yarn about a tsetse fly. A profusely illustrated, bemusingly unorthodox introduction to math. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“I once had a math teacher who used to throw books at us. If only this had been one of them.” (Ben Longstaff - New Scientist)

“Informative, intelligent, and refreshingly irreverent. A roller-coaster ride along the frontiers of today’s mathematics, and anyone can climb on board. I enjoyed it immensely.” (Ian Stewart, author of Flatterland)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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This book is full of very lively and engaging explanations of a wide range of mathematics.
Darren Glass
Starting simply with the subject of coincidences, the authors show how and why even in very small groups you may share a birthday with someone else.
Steve Reina
Honestly, I know I'll reread the book--it's really funny... I can't believe I laughed out loud a few times while reading it!
Rick Peterson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Darren Glass on August 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is full of very lively and engaging explanations of a wide range of mathematics. The book consists of four parts, each of which is subdivided into three chapters. The first part is on "Understanding Uncertainty" and covers topics related to chaos, coincidences, and statistics. The second part, "Embracing Figures", deals with cryptography and patterns and has an especially nice section on `sizing up numbers' which deals with orders of magnitude and topics which should be a part of anybody's quantitative literacy. "Exploring Aesthetics" is the subject of the third part, which includes discussions of fractals and chaos and a nice introduction to the coffee cups and doughnuts of topology. They also discuss Mobius Bands and Klein Bottles, which lead nicely into the final section, which is entitled "Transcending Reality", and deals with the fourth dimension and various notions of infinity.

That is a large number of topics to cover in 288 pages, and doing a little division will tell you that many topics are treated extremely briefly. And that would probably be many readers' main criticism of the book: while it certainly gives a sampling platter of a large number of ideas throughout mathematics, it does not give you an entire meal of any of them, and before you are even done chewing one bite, the authors bring you the next topic served on a platter. While I certainly understand, and to some extent agree with, this criticism, I think that many readers will prefer their mathematics served this way, and it certainly will open the door for many of them to explore these ideas further.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By David Evans VINE VOICE on November 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Math can be beautiful; math can be fun. While I caught glimpses of these truths occasionally in the course of my formal education, I never really saw the light. With Burger and Starbird's delightful book, it feels like I'm staring at the sun. In their closing thoughts, they write, "Mathematics is a liberating entertainment"; and at that point, they've proven it.

The authors show us the beauty of math in quotidian objects: the number of spirals on a pineapple or in the center of a sunflower, for example, are almost always the same and always follow a particular mathematical sequence known as a Fibonacci sequence. That sequence leads us to a geometric concept known as the Golden Rectangle, which they show has been embraced by various artists and architects in paintings and buildings. There is math in beauty and there is beauty in math.

They take us on a tour of topology (an advanced region of mathematics) with friendly, informal examples such as how to remove your undies without removing your trousers. And they teach us how a simple math concept can underlie extraordinarily difficult to crack codes. They lead us into the fourth dimension and on to infinity (and then on to another infinity that's even bigger than infinity)!

The most impressive aspect of this book is that, despite the heady nature of the material, the authors relentlessly make it fun. The book is filled with both humor and clever, helpful drawings. This accessible book can remind us all that math leads into exciting territory.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Rick Peterson on November 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading this book. I have to admit I was a math-fan before the read, but this book brought out all that is good in math and much more. It is the first book that explains really big ideas in mathematics without any fancy math symbols (in fact, I don't think I saw one equation in the entire book!). It really is written for the general public and I feel that anyone who picks it up will love it and will not put it down.

Now I do know some math, so I have to say that the comments of Kyle Williams that I read today are a bit strange. The sections he refers to explain well-understood and well-established mathematical ideas that have been written in very original ways. It really is correct. Honestly, I know I'll reread the book--it's really funny... I can't believe I laughed out loud a few times while reading it! You'll love it!
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on September 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Remember how dull math was back then? We all took the required course in Algebra. We struggled through it, we got out, and most of us never thought about the subject again.

If this had been the math book we used, math might have been considered fun. It might even have taught us that we wanted to study more math. In this book the authors take some real problems, problems that might even interest one of today's teenagers and use that to discuss mathematics.

Any kid would have some interest in learning about secret messages. Probably both the boys and the girls. The boys by their very nature, the girls so that the boys couldn't read their diary. Secred messages lead to cryptography and an opportunity to study prime numbers, factoring, all kinds of things.

And topology, mobius strips which only have one side. You could make mobius strips in class and do some experiments that would be a lot more fun than going to the board to do long division.

In part it's the subject matter that makes this book so interesting. Infinity and choas theory are just plain interesting. But it's also the writing style, for instance: 'If we were to randomly kidnap 35 people off the street, two events are remarkably likely to happen. The first is we'd probably get arrested, the second ....'

Delightful book.
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