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Life By the Numbers Paperback – March 17, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0471328223 ISBN-10: 0471328227

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley (March 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471328227
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471328223
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,790,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Most of us think mathematics is about numbers and counting. That's just the basics, though, and Keith Devlin's companion book to the PBS series "Life by the Numbers" gives examples of the versatility of math as a tool for understanding just about everything. Devlin loves math--he calls it "one of the greatest creations of mankind" in a chapter entitled "It's an M World"--and he wants everyone to love it. He shows, through fascinating photos and examples, that mathematics is all around us, determining everything from the shape of a flower to how our CD players and insurance policies work. For the math-phobic, Life by the Numbers can be a reintroduction to a subject they may have mistakenly thought dry and boring. Forget about long division, we're talking about understanding virtual reality, leopard spots, and viruses. This book would be perfect to introduce a high-school student to some of the great careers available to mathematicians. The experts introduced throughout are hip and cutting-edge, putting math to work in movie special effects, sports and art. Profusely illustrated and engagingly written, Devlin's tour of modern mathematics brings the subject to life. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Acclaim for Life by the Numbers

"Not in many, many years have I seen a book as instructive and enlightening about the beauty of mathematics. Life by the Numbers is truly superb. Sheer fun." —Amir Aczel, author of Fermat's Last Theorem

"A fascinating account of many of the ways in which mathematical ideas find application in the world around us. Keith Devlin is to be congratulated for bringing these ideas so accessibly to the public." —Sir Roger Penrose, author of The Emperor's New Mind

"This wondrous book reveals how, on the brink of the millennium, wizards are using math to bring movie dinosaurs to life, to improve tennis stars' serves, to win sailboat races, and to probe the eeriest corners of the cosmos. A pleasurable read for adult and young alike." —Keay Davidson, coauthor of Wrinkles in Time

More About the Author

Dr. Keith Devlin is a mathematician at Stanford University in California. He is a co-founder and Executive Director of the university's H-STAR institute, a co-founder of the Stanford Media X research network, and a Senior Researcher at CSLI. He has written 31 books and over 80 published research articles. His books have been awarded the Pythagoras Prize and the Peano Prize, and his writing has earned him the Carl Sagan Award, and the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications Award. In 2003, he was recognized by the California State Assembly for his "innovative work and longtime service in the field of mathematics and its relation to logic and linguistics." He is "the Math Guy" on National Public Radio. (Archived at

He is a World Economic Forum Fellow and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His current research is focused on the use of different media to teach and communicate mathematics to diverse audiences. He also works on the design of information/reasoning systems for intelligence analysis. Other research interests include: theory of information, models of reasoning, applications of mathematical techniques in the study of communication, and mathematical cognition.

He writes a monthly column for the Mathematical Association of America, "Devlin's Angle":

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Charles Ashbacher HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I recently purchased a videotape of the Star Wars™ movie, `The Phantom Menace.' It is difficult to believe that a more convincing point of evidence for the power of applied mathematics will exist for some time. The scenes where the generated creatures are in motion have a degree of reality that is astounding. As Devlin spends a great deal of time explaining in this book, what you see is a complex series of numbers translated by a computer into pictures on a screen.
Other topics concerning image generation by computer involve the visualization of scientific data. People working in this area are often a combination of graphics artist and computer scientist. With such enormous amounts of data being collected, interpreting it and filtering out the points of interest has become a horrifically difficult task. The only way that it can be done is to find ways to filter the data as much as possible and then display it in a visual manner where the key points are easily discernible. No quote better describes the situation than that uttered by R. W. Hamming, `The purpose of computing is insight, not numbers.'
The physics of sports is also described in some detail. No matter how well trained their bodies are, athletes are still bound by the laws of physics, so at some point their training must incorporate these laws. A simple question such as whether to jump higher or spin faster when figure skating can determine the difference between a medal winning performance and simply watching it happen on television.
This book is a tour de force in how many applications there are for mathematics, with many that appeal to young people. An appreciation for the value of mathematics is the first step towards a desire to study it, and this book will no doubt spark the appreciation.

Published in Journal of Recreational Mathematics, reprinted with permission.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Hasnor Lot on May 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
Life by the Numbers has a simple thesis to prove: that math is anywhere and everywhere; but instead of asserting the pervading ubiquity of mathematics whether you like it or not, the book convinces you that you *will* like it, period.
The book is richly illustrated and jargon-free, true to its promise on clarity and easy-of-reading especially for the non-professional readers. It is not so much of a wild speculation however to suggest that even a professional (specialist) mathematician will get a worthy entertainment reading this book, considering the wide spectrum of human interests where mathematics is unexpectedly to lurk that Devlin adventurously explores.
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By Lars Neises on July 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover
You can count on this book to entertain.
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5 of 21 people found the following review helpful By reader on June 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
The author (i.a.) has written better books.

Here he takes the low road in a production that

most math aficionados regard as a forgettable and

misguided venture.
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