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The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity Hardcover – October 2, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (October 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780547517650
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547517650
  • ASIN: 0547517653
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (194 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #251,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Guest Review by Janna Levin

Janna Levin

Janna Levin is a Professor of Astronomy and Physics at Barnard College of Columbia University. She has contributed to an understanding of black holes, the cosmology of extra dimensions, and gravitational waves in the shape of space time. She is the author of the popular-science book, How the Universe Got Its Spots and a novel, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, which won the PEN/Bingham prize. Janna was recently named a Guggenheim Fellow (2012).

I loved this beautiful book from the first page.

Mathematicians are in a peculiar predicament. Mathematical beauty is patent to them. And in the perception of that beauty is pleasure, is joy. But that pleasure is not easily shared. Mathematical beauty eludes many others, or even most others.

Steven Strogatz wants to share that joy. He sees the beauty of pi and 0 and infinity. But he doesn’t want to impose his impressions on you or to report on the view from his privileged perspective. He wants you to see it too. He doesn’t want to argue that mathematics is creative and beautiful. He wants you to experience the visceral pleasure for yourself.

To that end, he disassembles mathematics as a discipline, both feared and revered, and reassembles mathematics as a world, both accessible and magical.

If you have never braved this grand world, put away your math anxiety, your preconceptions. This book is the most welcoming entree to mathematical thinking that I know of.

If you have braved this grand world, you will find a collection of gems, new ways of inhabiting the domain. Strogatz links historical anecdotes to new insights, as though the math itself is sculptural, composed of forms that are simultaneously familiar and ethereal. The logic seems effortless so that each module snaps into its complement with a gratifying click.

This book is a rebuttal to the accusation that mathematical abstraction is cold or inhuman. Mathematics is no more intrinsically cold or inhuman than language. And Strogatz lends a warmth and humanity to both.

The Joy of x is, well, a joy.

From Booklist

When Strogatz invites grade-schoolers to construct Möbius strips with scissors, crayons, and tape, he is not expecting them to discover revolutionary new mathematical principles. But he does expect them to experience the kind of intellectual joy that sustains a lifetime of mathematical inquiry. Readers share that joy by joining Strogatz on a high-spirited romp through complex numbers, standard deviations, infinite sums, differential equations, and other mathematical playgrounds. The math arrives in such delightful episodes—a hike through a snow-covered field, for example, or an excited dinner conversation over symbols scribbled on a napkin—and is so often connected to poetry, sports, and popular TV shows that even math phobes will find themselves swept up in the fun. (Who knew that The Sopranos could help us fathom calculus?) To be sure, Strogatz occasionally points well-schooled readers to the rigorous analyses identified in his endnotes. But even those reluctant to venture into deeper waters will finish this book with a new relish for mathematics as a thrilling adventure, not a dreary chore. --Bryce Christensen

More About the Author

Steven Strogatz is the Schurman Professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University. A renowned teacher and one of the world's most highly cited mathematicians, he has been a frequent guest on National Public Radio's Radiolab. Among his honors are MIT's highest teaching prize, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a lifetime achievement award for communication of math to the general public, awarded by the four major American mathematical societies. He also wrote a popular New York Times online column, "The Elements of Math," which formed the basis for his new book, The Joy of x. He lives in Ithaca, New York with his wife and two daughters.

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Customer Reviews

It would be a great book for high school students who are into math, to get them excited about what they can learn in the years to come.
Nicholas Sterling
This book is a fun, interesting read even if you don't do math, even if you're not interested in learning more math, and especially if you are doing math.
Dana Nourie
By anchoring the difficult mathematical concepts to things we understand, and taking them one at a time, Strogatz makes the complex comprehensible.
Rebecca Haden

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 90 people found the following review helpful By J. Chambers HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on October 2, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Struggling through several years of higher math in engineering school in the 1960s didn't engender a love of mathematics in me. It wasn't until years later that I began to value the beauty and elegance of mathematics. A big part of my appreciation came from mathematicians like Steven Strogatz who wrote about math for readers who appreciated the concepts but had no desire to wade into a morass of complex equations.

In The Joy of x, Strogatz has done a masterful job as our tour guide through the elements of mathematics, and he's done it without "dumbing it down" or making it just another refresher course for the subject. He presented the various mathematical elements and concepts in fresh new ways, but he clearly expected the reader to exercise their mind to understand. The reward was a new appreciation of the beauty of mathematics and for how our knowledge of the subject advanced in fits and starts over several thousand years.

The book has six parts, each presenting certain elements of mathematics: Numbers, Relationships, Shapes, Change, Data, and Frontiers. These sections represent a grand tour through the history and development of mathematics, including the practical - and some whimsical - applications. Never again will I fall into the trap of bungling the answer to the classic "If three men paint three fences in three hours, how long will it take for one man to paint one fence?" (answer: 3 hours). Now I understand why a piece of paper can't be folded in half more than 7-8 times, and how a high school junior was able to beat the record using a monstrously long roll of... toilet paper! I know how Luke could guarantee himself a win over Darth Vader in a game of laser tag (hint: it involves a conic section).
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73 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Louis N. Gruber VINE VOICE on September 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This math-challenged reviewer would not ordinarily consider "joy" in connection with mathematics, so this little book sounded interesting. It is not a textbook of mathematics, not even an introductory one, but rather a quick tour through a range of mathematical ideas and concepts, aimed at the curious, but baffled layman. It covers everything--from numbers and counting, to negative numbers, imaginary numbers, algebra, the elements of calculus, probability, sine waves, geometry, trigonometry, solid geometry, topology, and the challenging problems of infinity. Will you understand all these things after reading "Joy"? No, but the terms and concepts will sound a little more familiar, less intimidating.

Author Steven Strogatz is no dull professor. He writes in a light-hearted entertaining way, with constant reference to the practical applications of mathematics. Along the way he presents some counter-intuitive problems for the reader to play with, amusing illustrations, and personal anecdotes.

No, you won't learn much mathematics from this delightful little book, but you'll learn some interesting things ABOUT mathematics that would never have occurred to you. I enjoyed this book and I may go back and read some chapters again. Forget about those painful experiences with long division when you were in school. This can actually be fun. I recommend it. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
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63 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Andy in Washington TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 27, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Before you buy this book, take a second to examine yourself. If you always hated math, don't bother with this book. You will just use it to reinforce your dislikes. But if you have ever looked at numbers, triangles, or even google page rankings and wondered how anyone ever figured any of that stuff out, this might be your book.

=== The Good Stuff ===

* This is not a math book. You won't learn how to calculate the area of a triangle, the odds of a no-hitter or the present value of a 40 year annuity. But if you are willing to read carefully and think about the concepts presented, you will have a better understanding of how math is used to model and predict the way the world works.

* I am an Electrical Engineer, a field that uses moderate level math on a daily basis. Even though none of this material was new to me, there was some interesting ways of explaining things which I had never considered before. This always comes in handy, even among fellow techies. And there were numerous facts and observations which, while I probably could derive them myself, were interesting enough to spend some time examining.

* All the material presented in the book is certainly at the level that any high-school graduate could understand. You might not be able to grasp the nuances of the material, or be able to use the concepts to solve real world problems, but you will have an understanding of how the math works. Depending on the amount of math your have been exposed to, some topics might require the reader to think a bit to understand the concepts.

Think about a two page article that describes how an internal combustion engine works.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Popular science writers perform an essential function for society; they help convince it that math is important and necessary. A large number of people suffer from some form of math phobia, from the person that struggles with it to that group that simply hates it. While this creates problems and a split in society, what is devastating is when people believe that mathematics has no value. As long as the general social body believes math is important and needs to be part of education, society can survive the math phobia.
People like Strogatz that write about math in publications for the general audience perform that function, for even someone with a math phobia will read the first few sentences of a math piece out of curiosity. Strogatz wrote a series of items about mathematics for the "New York Times" online and one can see why it was such a success. He begins each of the short segments in this book with a lively catch phrase that grabs your attention. His prose is light, substantive and thorough; by the time you reach the end the point has been well made.
Strogatz also does not shy away from using a formula and other mathematical notation when necessary, something that I commend him for. Ever since Steven Hawking made the famous statement in "A Brief History of Time" about the inverse relationship between the number of equations and the number of sales I am impressed when authors of popular mathematics include equations.
This collection of short columns about mathematics is a joy to read, people from the one with a phobia to those that love it will find the mathematics interesting.
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