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Mathletics: A Scientist Explains 100 Amazing Things About the World of Sports Hardcover – June 18, 2012

3.6 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“...Barrow’s writing is accessible and entertaining, just the thing for mathematically minded sports fans.” (Publishers Weekly)

About the Author

John D. Barrow is professor of mathematical sciences and director of the Millennium Mathematics Project at Cambridge University, as well as a Fellow of the Royal Society. He is the best-selling author of many books on science and mathematics, including Mathletics: 100 Amazing Things You Didn’t Know about the World of Sports and 100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know: Math Explains Your World.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (June 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393063410
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393063417
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,469,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In this book, the author describes various sports, including a great many from the Olympics, and proceeds to analyze them using physical and mathematical principles. Many of these analyses focus on the physical performance of the given sport, others on the scoring system and yet a few others on winning strategies. A few chapters address less sports-like events such as coin flipping, probability, psychology, etc. Having read the author's excellent "100 Essential Things You Didn't Know You Didn't Know", I was eagerly expecting more of the same in this book but with a sports-related twist. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed.

On the positive side, there are many interesting sports details discussed in this book - especially about Olympic events. Consequently, I learned much about the various Olympic sports, as well as a bit on their history. Also, many of the physical/mathematical analyses are as interesting as I had hoped and were a great pleasure to read. Finally, the author's writing style is very friendly, chatty, lively and generally accessible.

On the negative side, the book contains too many errors, omissions, erroneous labelling of diagrams, incomplete/misleading diagrams and some rather unclear descriptions. Taken together, I found these to be extremely frustrating. Also, I must agree with a prior reviewer who pointed out that some rather British sports - predominantly rugby and cricket - are discussed with the assumption that the reader knows all about them: terminology, rules, etc. For North American readers like me, this is not necessarily the case. In retrospect, it almost appears as though the book was rushed into print without proper editing. The author often mentions the "future" London 2012 Olympics.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I discovered the book through an article in Scientific American. Being 1st a sports enthusiast and 2nd scientifically minded, I was very excited to buy the book. If you are a calculator-head and love everything math, you will probably enjoy this book greatly. I found it lopsided towards math and did not feed my sports cravings. It is written at an above average reading level.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book has some excellent chapters. I particularly enjoyed the part in which the author investigates the relationship between the size of a rowing crew and the speed at which it travels, and the probabilistic analysis of different scoring systems in squash and other sports.

But other parts are disappointing. This is a collection of many short essays, and some of them stop before making an interesting point: an essay on the appearance of Simpson's paradox in averages gets as far as observing an occurrence of it, and then it just ends. There is no exploration of the mathematics of Simpson's paradox on even a superficial level. The chapter describing an algorithm for organizing a round-robin tournament is completely wrong: it's very clear from the author's examples that some teams will never play each other under his algorithm, while a correct algorithm is very widely known but not, apparently, to the author. Lots of typos throughout the book render some of the equations and expressions incorrect, so if readers are trying to follow along with the algebra, they may get very confused.

The author can't decide the level he's pitching the book at. Some very elementary mathematical concepts are explained in detail, while other sections assume specialist knowledge that is not explained: for instance the calculation of power-vs-drag of a rowing crew uses concepts about scaling and dimensionality which would make an interesting chapter on their own, but instead are introduced very quickly in passing. It's hard to imagine that a reader who hadn't met these ideas before would be satisfied.
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Format: Paperback
Most people are not aware that sporting activities hide many interesting mathematical and physical aspects that warrant scientific investigation. Barrow has written a nice book that captures many (although not all) of these aspects such as, for example, statistical analyses of records established in different sports, from athletics to swimming, aspects of probability theory associated to different scoring systems as well as the basic physics of balls and body motion. Hence the title, Mathletics, although attractive, does not cover well the many different issues discussed inside the book which are not limited neither to mathematics nor athletics.
Having been a rower when I was young, I was particularly fascinated by the arguments discussed in chapter 36 "Rowing has its moments" which is about the moments (force x distance) applied to a boat with N rowers (N=4,8). From Barrow's analysis it appears that the boats with standard rig of alternate four or eight rowers do wiggle because the total moment is not zero. In this regard, the non-standard rig introduced by the Moto Guzzi rowing club in the 1950s is characterized by a zero total moment which is highly beneficial (they won the Olympic Games in 1956). A detailed analysis by Barrow was published in the American Journal of Physics in 2010.
Another interesting chapter is the one dedicated to triathlon (ch. 58): according to the author, the present triathlon races are biased toward bicycle ride, meaning that good swimmers and runners are at disadvantage with respect to the riders. The author hence suggest an equitempered triathlon that result from equalizing the time spent on each activity. The book is certainly interesting and entertaining and it is worth reading even if you do not have a good background in mathematics and physics.
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