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Geekspeak: A Guide to Answering the Unanswerable, Making Sense of the Nonsensical, and Solving the Unsolvable Paperback – February 2, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (February 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061626783
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061626784
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,349,611 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The best kept secret in math is how much one can accomplish through estimation and educated guessing: it's possible to take what one knows in general, apply that to an amazing range of problems in daily life, and obtain surprisingly workable solutions to questions like "What are the best words to use in a personal ad?" or "How many flies would it take to pull a car?" In this friendly primer, UK "freelance engineer" Tattersall guides readers through 26 "problems" meant to demonstrate how anyone can benefit from some armchair arithmetic. Like all problem solvers, Tattersall doesn't leave his brain at the office, but uses "short cut" techniques constantly; in short chapters, he describes his process by tackling a different question with a number of methods, as well as practical applications for the solution (say, an estimation of the human brain's processing speed). Though he gilds the lily of mathematical practicality, Tatterall's welcoming attitude, solid principles and intriguing examples should stick with the logically or mathematically inclined. B&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—This collection of essays is a good choice for teens who suspect what geeks already know—that mathematics is interesting and, yes, even fun. The selections are geek lite, covering such questions as "How heavy is your house?" and "Which is more powerful—your brain or a PC?" The answers provided are short (typically four to eight pages); humorous; and, best of all for the mathematically challenged, easy to understand. Tattersall occasionally throws in an impressive-looking formula in a display of "gee-whiz" showmanship, but readers need not worry. The author explains his calculations in plain English. While the British origin of the book will from time to time jar American readers, as when the author explains how you can estimate the population of Boston because you already know the population of Liverpool, this is a minor distraction in an entertaining and enlightening book.—Sandy Schmitz, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

The book is interesting and fun to read.
Cathy Stucker
The writing style is clear, accessible, friendly, authoritative and very engaging; but most of all, it is quite witty and occasionally very humorous.
G. Poirier
I already understand how useful math is, and I imagine that anyone who picks up this book will already understand that too.
Renee O Pruitt

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on April 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book. In 29 fascinating chapters, the author, an engineer, discusses issues as diverse as how to estimate the number of words one's vocabulary, to calculating how many flies it takes to pull a car, to how you can tell the weight of a bus just by looking at it, etc., etc. In each case, the author uses a very common-sense, step-by-step approach in which numbers are rounded and approximate answers are eventually obtained. He points out that many of the calculations are of a type that one can do in ones head while sitting on a deck chair with one's eyes closed - although, in many cases, some basic data or numbers or factors are needed to actually make the estimate. In my case, if I were doing such calculations from scratch, I would prefer having a basic calculator on hand - at least for some of them. The writing style is clear, accessible, friendly, authoritative and very engaging; but most of all, it is quite witty and occasionally very humorous. Because of the pleasant way in which this book is written, in combination with the information that it conveys, it can be enjoyed by absolutely anyone - math phobic or not.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I have trouble getting to sleep, I concentrate on a puzzle or a math problem. (Will Shortz's Sunday puzzles on NPR are good for this.) This keeps my mind focused on a task and keeps me from letting my mind wander into troubling areas that keep me awake (why did I say that to my boss? I really have to balance my checkbook. What's that sound?) It seems like a geeky thing to do, but if I am geeky, then Graham Tattersall is a hundred times more geeky.

He isn't troubled by his geekiness, though. He positively wallows in it. If there's a question that can be solved with numbers, Tattersall is there to tackle it. How much does your house weigh? How much does this bus weigh? How much does your head weigh? When Tattersall isn't figuring out how heavy things are, he's figuring out whether humans or PCs are more powerful (computers), if there are more dead people than people alive right now (yes), and how fast farts are (20 mph).

Geekspeak has lots of short chapters on a variety of subjects that make it perfect for reading in short spurts. There are lots of formulas and diagrams, so be warned. The only quibble I have with the book is that there is a hodgepodge of typefaces on each chapter heading, which is not attractive. You don't need to be a geek to enjoy Geekspeak, just very curious.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Aletheia on August 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Usually we do not associate the word, "fun" with "math." But in this book, "Geekspeak" by Dr. Graham Tattersall is just that. It is informative and fun. For example, he claims that using a mathematical formula, "there are 4.1 billion people accessible through a chain of just six links. The world's population is about 6.6 billion, so it seems that a pal of a pal of a pal of a pal of a pal will connect you to three-quarters of humanity" (pp. 39-40). This is mind boggling concept!

1. The book overall, I find it entertaining and at times, fascinating. He shows the world of numbers in all areas of our life (the author covers from a probability of an accidental death to computer chips).
2. Sometimes, at least for me, while entertaining, it is filled with dizzy array of numerical calculations. But it makes you think.
3. The chapters are short and therefore, you do not feel overwhelmed by the topic.
4. For parents: Chapter 1 includes the "f-" word. The author is only stating the research result of man's three finger print words: "f-," "er," and "the." So he is not being offensive.

Overall, I like the book. It is interesting. It makes math fun and informative. It also makes me think...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David J. Huber VINE VOICE on September 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm very much a geek, and love mathematics and looking through the world with the mathematician's/scientist's geeky lens. I had high hopes for this book, and it didn't really deliver.

I was hoping for higher level of geekdom - this is a sort of tenth-grade level of geekdom. However, that still puts it at a higher level than most people, and so I suppose that's where the book had to settle, otherwise it would have a much more limited audience. However, "Brief History of Time" didn't shy away from being more advanced, and I think this book could have handled it.

Basically, this books take everyday normal sorts of occurrences/things and attempts to go into some mathematical detail about it, and show how even some potentially very difficult mathematics can be done in the head through approximation, some informed guesswork, and rounding off along the way. Not to get specific answers accurate to four or five significant digits, but to get approximate answers that are maybe within the engineer's allowable 10% plus or minus.

He uses a bunch of interesting examples (How many dumpsters could you fill with a year's worth of American trash? How much land is needed to bury the dead each year? How many piano tuners are there in Boston?
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