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Number-Crunching: Taming Unruly Computational Problems from Mathematical Physics to Science Fiction Hardcover – August 28, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691144257
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691144252
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Great stories. Interesting and challenging problems. Instructive MATLAB code. Lots of physics. That's my in-a-nutshell assessment. . . . Nahin takes on the subject of using computers to solve difficult problems, many in physics, that couldn't be solved before computers. . . . This is one of those books that one can read as a spectator, enjoying the scenery, taking in the landscape, appreciating the rich stories--my relationship with the book--or one can dive in, study the many equations, run the code, and have a personal experience of how problems that were unsolvable just a few decades ago have succumbed to computers."--Sol Lederman, Wild About Math

"Number Crunching is most timely, given the escalating scale of economic, commercial, and financial transactions, necessitating thinking about, evaluating, and communicating on a much larger scale. . . . The presentation in Number Crunching is simultaneously accessible, readable, entertaining, daunting, sophisticated, and technical."--Stephen E. Roulac, New York Journal of Books

"Number-Crunching is packed with copious notes and references and augmented by significant challenge problems that take the reader beyond the text and which would make good undergraduate projects. . . . Nahin's aim is clearly to convey enthusiasm for the subject to a younger reader and to give a glimpse of what is technically possible. . . . He looks to convey the excitement that he and many of us had when first attracted to the physical sciences as we were growing up--the excitement at the realisation that, given a few tools, even an awkward teenager can make quantitative statements about the world."--C.J. Howls, Times Higher Education

"Paul Nahin, a prolific and knowledgeable expository writer, is a professor emeritus of electrical engineering at the University of New Hampshire. What he offers in Number-Crunching might be described as a mix of (1) supplementary readings for courses in mathematics, physics, or electrical engineering, (2) 'challenge problems' intended as a brain-jogging call to prospective professionals, and (3) a garage sale of mathematical miscellania and esoterica."--Philip J. Davis, SIAM News

"[Number-Crunching] is impressive for several reasons. First, Nahin has found the right level--not too easy and not too hard. Second, the problem selections and topics are interesting and in several cases give surprising results. Finally, the book is just plain fun."--Choice

"[A] highly entertaining and rewarding read."--Dean Rickles, Mathematical Reviews

"Unlike writers of popular mathematics books, Nahin is more then happy to spray the pages with equations! Since these are surrounded by lucid and informal explanations, they add significant value to the book. . . . Whether or not you are the computing type, there is a lot to enjoy about this book."--Alan Stevens, Mathematics TODAY

"Many of these challenge problems would make excellent projects--both in mathematics or physics--for undergraduates to explore. Number-Crunching's greatest strength is providing a perspective on how three unique yet vastly intertwined fields interact while keeping readers more and more intrigued as they progress through the text. Readers will find abundant resources to quench their thirst for knowledge of computational mathematics and physics."--Brandon Milanovich, Mathematics Teacher

From the Inside Flap

"While there is a plethora of computational physics books, only this one brings the sheer joy and fascination of the subject to the general reader. The problems in Number-Crunching are nicely selected, the prose is clear and humorous, and the solutions range from the interesting to the gloriously counterintuitive. With the ubiquity of powerful personal computers and the easy availability of scientific software, this is a very timely book."--Lawrence Weinstein, coauthor of Guesstimation

"Nahin's work is always highly interesting. His book tackles a large number of problems that can be handled by an adroit combination of pencil-and-paper work and, where the analytics get too difficult, numerical computation. This book is great and I really enjoyed it."--Charles Adler, St. Mary's College

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Ed Pegg Jr TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday -- Question: If Farmer A can plant 300 potatoes an hour, and Farmer B can plant potatoes fifty percent faster, and Farmer C can plant potatoes one third as fast as farmer B, and 10,000 potatoes are to be planted to an acre, how many nine-hour days will it take Farmers A, B, and C, working simultaneously, to plant 25 acres? Answer: I think I'll blow my brains out.

That's the opening quote. The author suggests that if your reaction was less extreme than Vonnegut's, and you started working out an answer, then his book is probably for you! I've enjoyed his other books, about srqt(-1), and Euler's Formula, so I tried out this one.

The book has sample tricky problems involving boundary conditions, electric circuits, chaos theory, differential amplifiers, heat transfer, n-body problems, and predator-prey equations. These are all explained well.

Unfortunately, the book isn't really cutting edge. For example, page 329, on zeros of the Riemann Zeta function: "Trillions of complex zeros have been calculated since 1859, and every last one of them does indeed have a real part of 1/2." The actual story is more recent. The Zetagrid project calculated 935.7 billion nontrivial zeros by the year 2004. Xavier Gourdon then found a much faster method, and calculated the first 10 trillion zeros that same year.

The computers of today are roughly a billion times more powerful than computers of 1980 or earlier.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By David Wunsch on January 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you enjoy applied mathematics, MATLAB, fun with numbers, physics and electrical engineering, buy this book.
You'll appreciate his MATLAB treatment of the three body problem as well as his discussions of ladder networks.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John Poet on August 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent author; interesting and entertaining. The illustrations depict the complexity and difficulty of problems that we have all heard about; but, haven't had to deal with personally [unless you are a talented engineer / scientist]. The tools he uses to approach these problems are a highlight of the book -- should you desire to tackle a difficult problem, you can make an enlightened choice from his experiments with different techniques.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John W. Fuqua on September 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
All of his books are great ! His books are somewhat like puzzle books but instead of a short answer, he works through the whole issue and presents the history, logic and mathematics. You learn alot from the way he works out these but I think he would admit there was a lot of thought in developing the analysis---both his and other authors [who he credits].
I could not more highly recommend his books.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful By warren on September 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great Book! Anything written by Paul Nahin is just super. He gives detailed historical as well as mathematical background in all his books. I wish I had them when I was going to school in electrical engineering at Michigan State U. - Much easier learned when taught by Paul Nahin
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More About the Author

Paul Nahin was born in California, and did all his schooling there (Brea-Olinda High 1958, Stanford BS 1962, Caltech MS 1963, and - as a Howard Hughes Staff Doctoral Fellow - UC/Irvine PhD 1972, with all degrees in electrical engineering). He worked as a digital logic designer and radar systems engineer in the Southern California aerospace industry until 1971, when he started his academic career. He has taught at Harvey Mudd College, the Naval Postgraduate School, and the Universities of New Hampshire (where he is now emeritus professor of electrical engineering) and Virginia. In between and here-and-there he spent a post-doctoral year at the Naval Research Laboratory, and a summer and a year at the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Defense Analyses as a weapon systems analyst, all in Washington, DC. He has published a couple dozen short science fiction stories in ANALOG, OMNI, and TWILIGHT ZONE magazines, and has written 16 books on mathematics and physics, published by IEEE Press, Springer, and the university presses of Johns Hopkins and Princeton. His most recent book, INSIDE INTERESTING INTEGRALS, discussing numerous techniques for doing definite integrals (up through and including contour integration in the complex plane) that commonly occur in physics, engineering, and mathematics, was published by Springer in September 2014. His next book, IN PRAISE OF SIMPLE PHYSICS, on the application in everyday life situations of elementary mathematics (up to and including freshman calculus) and the fundamental physical laws, is under contract with Princeton University Press and will appear in early 2016. He has given invited talks on mathematics at Bowdoin College, the Claremont Graduate School, the University of Tennessee, and Caltech, has appeared on National Public Radio's "Science Friday" show (discussing time travel) as well as on New Hampshire Public Radio's "The Front Porch" show (discussing imaginary numbers), and advised Boston's WGBH Public Television's "Nova" program on the script for their time travel episode. He gave the invited Sampson Lectures for 2011 in Mathematics at Bates College (Lewiston, Maine). When he isn't writing he is battling evil-doers on his PS4 and, now and then, he even wins.

FINALLY - numerous readers have written over the years asking about the solutions manual to my Springer book, THE SCIENCE OF RADIO. Springer has kindly made it available in pdf format (3 MB), and if you write to me I'll send you a copy.