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The Math Instinct: Why You're a Mathematical Genius (Along with Lobsters, Birds, Cats, and Dogs) Hardcover – March 7, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Intriguing ... Devlin has found a new and interesting 'angle' to present the beauty of mathematics to the general public." -- The Mathematical Association of America, August 2005

About the Author

Dr. Keith Devlin is Executive Director of Stanford's Center for the Study of Language and Information and a Consulting Professor of Mathematics at Stanford. He is a co-founder of Stanford’s Media X network – a campuswide research network focused on the design and use of interactive technologies – and its Executive Director. He is the author of twenty-four books, one interactive book on CD-ROM and over seventy-five published research articles. Since 1994 Devlin has been a regular contributor to NPR’s "Weekend Edition," where he is known as "the Math Guy" in his on-air conversations with host Scott Simon. Devlin is a frequent contributor to other local and national radio programs. Devlin was a co-writer of the BBC Horizon/WGBH Nova television documentary "A Mathematical Mystery Tour" and has appeared on a number of television programs, including the six-part PBS series "Life by the Numbers," for which he wrote the companion book.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Thunder's Mouth Press (March 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560256729
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560256724
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.9 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,792,736 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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 http://www.stanford.edu/~kdevlin/MathGuy.html.)

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": http://www.maa.org/devlin/devangle.html

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Sean on June 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I must say, despite the three stars, I enjoyed this book. I found the various examples of animals 'doing' mathematics very interesting. Also interesting is the section on street math; the fact that poor children in Brazil preform relatively flawless mathematics in their produce stalls, yet fail the same problems on a formal test. However, I was looking forward to something Devlin alluded to in the introduction: a way we can teach math more effectively. However, after all these countless examples, his solution was presented briefly at the final chapter. Essentially, Devlin says that conceptual math, not rote math needs to be emphasized and real life examples should be utilized more. Honestly, I would rather this have been just a fun math book for non-math minded people than have such an obvious ending. With that said, if I could I would give this book 3.5 stars because it is such an interesting read.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth J. Dillon on March 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book offers a very readable overview for the non-specialist, with many fascinating details on how animals use their kinds of natural mathematics. It also discusses the findings of Brazilian researchers on how teenage street vendors who can't handle school math develop their own effective street math techniques. The author makes abundantly clear that many people can't deal with school math because it is presented as an abstract symbolic system. People can learn best, he argues, by applying math in concrete ways. Unfortunately, he stops short at the end of the book and simply enjoins us to practice because that is the way humans gain mastery over subjects. It would have been useful for him to spell out how such practice can best be done and to give examples. I recall an awful pre-calculus course that spent a full year trying to prove a set of theorems, leaving us students with no knowledge of how to apply calculus to scientific, financial, or other problems (this was the last exposure to math for most of the class). We would have learned much better by applying calculus to real problems, then perhaps concluding the year with a bit of theory. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy popular science literature or want to know more about animal math.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on July 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
Although the word "math" appears in the title, this book is mainly about instinct and psychology. About half the book contains discussions on how animals instinctively do certain things that have some foundation in math. The other half of the book looks at how humans perceive and behave in math-related situations - from infancy to adulthood. The book is very well-written, very clear and easy to read. Those who are math phobic have nothing to fear here; in fact, they would likely find this book very interesting in the sense that they would learn something fascinating about themselves. Other than for those who are math phobic, this book has something for psychology buffs as well as animal lovers. But most importantly, it should grace the shelves of math educators as well as those who are interested in the reasons and possible cures for innumeracy.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By algo41 on September 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
"The Math Instinct" is something of a hodge-podge, and I think it could be written better, but there is lots of really interesting material, and the reader can always skip chapters not of interest to him/her. I say the book isn't written that well, because Devlin doesn't do well enough with the more difficult concepts. I say it is a hodge podge because subjects such as the nautilus's shell have nothing to do with the rest of the book; in fact Devlin waits far too long to distinguish between computational skills of animals, such as their navigational skills, and the results of optimization through evolutionary trial and error (bee's hexagonal honeycomb) which has nothing to do with the animal brain's capacity for doing math.

Amazingly, a numerical sense has been found to exist in baby's only a few days old, as well as in rats, etc. Brazilian children who could not master arithmetic in school, do great when they need to employ math in the marketplace. When math is abstract and rule based, without making sense, it is hard to learn or apply. It actually uses a part of the brain devoted to language rather than a part used for "natural" math (which incidentally grew out of the area used to control digits). Devlin addresses teaching math, but surprisingly doesn't have much too say, emphasizing repetitive practice rather than a change in presentation. For example, for reasons Devlin gives, learning 7 x 8 = 56 is particularly hard, so why not teach 7 x 8 = 7 x 7 + 7, thereby giving the idea of multiplication as a quick way to do some kinds of addition, and taking advantage of the kind of techniques untutored Brazilian working kids use in the marketplace?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Bardsley on November 17, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
This book was well written, meticulously researched, and thought provoking. The final chapters reaffirmed everything I learned about Constructivist math in my professional development as a teacher. Dr. Devlin leaves me wishing over and over again that I could go back to my childhood and learn math in a new way. The research he presented about young infants understanding the quantity of two was especially fascinating. As a mother, I am going to work harder to understand my children's innate mathematical ability, before it gets smothered by "education".
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