From School Library Journal
Adult/High School—This collection of bloglike entries is not, as the title would have readers believe, a series of just-so stories, although occasional essays explain such everyday phenomena as why the other line always seems to move faster. More often, though, they are constructed around implausible hypotheticals (what if a soccer league changed scoring rules retroactively?) or end before fully explaining real-world implications. As the selections accumulate, however, it becomes clear that Barrow is interested not in how "math explains your world," but something more subtle: how the world illuminates math. Each piece is an access point to a different aspect of math: probability, trigonometry, algebra, calculus, and much more, but this is not a dry collection of derivations and theorems. Barrow's enthusiastic willingness to use any excuse (however slim) to employ math quickly becomes infectious, and the brevity that at first seems to truncate topics instead serves his holistic view of math as a joyous investigation of the world. As probably the largest population using higher-level math on a regular basis, teens are uniquely positioned to understand and share Barrow's enthusiasms. For those who find something mysterious and intriguing in solving an equation, this collection is a fascinating look into the mind of a professional mathematician and the way in which math can be not simply a row of numbers but a way of looking at the world.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA
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How can calculus prolong a life? In answering this surprising question, Barrow shares just one of the fascinating bits of mathematical lore he has collected here. Though unpredictably diverse, this treasury piquantly reminds readers of how much we err when we dismiss mathematics as a dryly academic specialty, cut off from the rhythms of real life. In fact, mathematical conundrums pop up in the most unexpected settings. Collectors of classic baseball cards, for instance, may be startled to learn that probability theory can guide shrewd strategies for swapping with other collectors. Similarly, the consumer making an online purchase will marvel at how linked prime numbers create the codes for a secure transaction. Even roller-coaster enthusiasts will discover that math accounts for the clothoid shape of the thrilling rides they enjoy most. A few of the forays demand some theoretical sophistication, but most are delightfully accessible to the nonspecialist. Where else does math become a romp, full of entertaining tricks and turns? --Bryce Christensen