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The Best Math Book I Ever Read
on July 27, 1999
This is the best math book I ever read. Before reading it I had a vague knowledge of Fourier series (that you could decompose a curve into a sum of simple sine and cosine waves) but I had no idea of the power of this method or its applications. After reading it (several times) I'm pretty well versed (or at least I talk like I am) in Fourier series, Fourier coefficients, discrete Fourier expansions, Fourier transforms and FFTs (fast Fourier transforms), certainly enough to read and understand (in a brief search of the web) applications such as finding buried landmines, identifying aircraft as friend or foe, recovering latent fingerprints, or compressing data to a fraction of the original size.
What impressed me more, however, was that I understood why there are only five vowels in the English language, why an infinite vector space is equivalent to a Fourier expansion, and why Heinsenberg's uncertainty principle makes perfect intuitive sense. This book is nothing if not eclectic, and the range of topics discussed is immense.
If I hadn't already studied calculus and linear algebra in college I would also, for the first time, understand differentiation, integration, vector spaces, Euler's formula, Maclaurin series and the number e, all of which are presented with unusual clarity. This book is a tour de force, a summary of almost everything that is interersting (at least to me) in mathematics.
You have to get beyond certain things when you read this book. Understand that it was written by a bunch of kids and is replete with cartoon characters saying things like "Good grief!" and subbplots in which, for example, the "Non-periodic kid" sends taunting messages to the Magistrate and his constables. I found this obnoxious at first, but later I found it inspirational. If those kids could do it, I could do it. Thus inspired, I read the book three times, until I finally understood it. The Transnational College of Lex has its own theories of leaning, and it looks like they're right.
I cannot recommend this book too highly, or to too many readers. Even (or perhaps especially) if you don't like mathematics, you should check it out. You'll learn something.