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You Are a Mathematician: A Wise and Witty Introduction to the Joy of Numbers [Hardcover]

David Wells
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 18, 1997 0471180777 978-0471180777
What is the largest number less than 1?

If x and y are any of two different positive numbers, which is larger, x2 + y2 or 2xy?

What do you get if you cross a cube and an octahedron?

Discover the surprising answers as David Wells conclusively proves that: you Are a mathematician

Praise for David Wells's

The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers.

"This is a fascinating, strange, and probably unique book, one that I will look at again and again. As soon as I had taken a good look at it, I went out and bought three more copies to give to friends." —New Scientist.

"David Wells's book about curious and interesting numbers is a quirky classic." —William Dunham Author, Journey Through Genius.

Are you on friendly terms with numbers? You will be after reading this delightful introduction to the fascinating and challenging world of mathematics. Bestselling author David Wells, a Cambridge math scholar and former teacher, explores the many patterns, properties —and problems —associated with numbers in a witty, thoroughly engaging style that is both entertaining and informative. Whether you are a math aficionado or whether you, as the author puts it, "panic and start sweating at the sight of a sum," Wells makes one point abundantly clear: You Are a Mathematician.

From basic arithmetic to algebraic equations, from the purely practical to the abstract, this is an ideal guide to the potential and pleasures of math. Surprising patterns emerge from the simplest groupings of numbers. The many secrets hidden inside of triangles are revealed, as are the origins of a host of mathematical theories and principles, from Aristotle to Euclid and Galileo. On a journey from the ancient Greeks to quantum theory, Wells shares intriguing anecdotes from history, such as how eighteenth-century European military commanders calculated how many cannonballs their enemies had stacked up next to their cannons.

David Wells invites us to discover the sense of wonder and fun that is so much a part of mathematics. Mathematical thinking is often very much like a game, relying on cunning tactics, deep strategy, and brilliant combinations as much as on observation, analogy, and informed guesswork. To illustrate, Wells includes over 100 brainteasing puzzles and problems, ranging from Ptolemy's theorem to Euler's famous solution to the K?nigsberg bridge problem and Koch's snowflake curve. Modern-day computer buffs will also enjoy the underground classic, the Game of Life, invented by Princeton mathematician John Conway.

Offering a comprehensive and stimulating look at the myriad aspects of mathematics —whether as a household helper or an invaluable tool of science —You Are a Mathematician covers a wide range of topics and applications. It is an ideal guide to the potential and pleasures to be found in math.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

If you have ever wondered what makes mathematics so fascinating to a mathematician, this may be the book for you. Wells, a British teacher and author of several books of problems and popular mathematics, leads you through topics in geometry, theory of numbers, games, and scientific modeling. In each chapter, the author works upward from simple, specific examples to greater levels of generalization, demonstrating clearly the way new results are actually discovered by mathematicians. He expects only a background in high school algebra and a willingness to put in some effort. Each section contains a number of problems (solutions are found at the end) to challenge the reader, so it is wise to read this book with pencil and paper handy. For popular mathematics collections.?Harold D. Shane, Baruch Coll., CUNY
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

As the title suggests, Wells expects readers to do more than passively absorb the information he presents in this insightful survey of fundamental mathematical concepts. Dozens of illustrative brainteasers challenge readers to flex their own mathematical muscles as they read about the feats of the discipline's superstars, from Euclid to Euler. (It may console readers defeated by the harder puzzles to learn that giants such as Descartes, Leibniz, and Gauss have published erroneous work and that some centuries-old conundrums continue to vex and confound the best contemporary mathematicians.) But besides introducing us to fascinating personalities, Wells explains how a mathematician probes for a solution or constructs a proof, why a mathematician cannot use the same tools as a scientist, and why humans still outperform computers in perceiving hidden geometric relationships. For the nonmathematican looking for a helpful and entertaining guidebook to the wondrous world of numbers, here it is. Bryce Christensen

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley (February 18, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471180777
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471180777
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,395,393 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for the mathematically-declined! August 13, 1997
By A Customer
This book is a very intense look at mathematics; however,
it is not so far out of reach that the average persion
couldn't understand. It doesn't take more than a high
school understanding of some basic algebra and
geometry to truly enjoy this book. But be warned! This
book is tough, and best tackled with plenty of scrap
paper to try some of the problems. If you complete the
book, you will have learned some very clever problem-
solving skills.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Journey into Mathematics December 11, 2000
This is certainly an interesting ride through the forests of mathematics.
The book is a very detailed and deep look at all branches of mathematics, and a very good look at many different curiosities and bewilderments. D.G. Wells starts with a brief look at triangles, numbers, and patterns and goes on to talk about the enjoyment of mathematics and certainty and proof. In between, he ventures into the world of mathematical games, the most famous of which is Conway's Game of Life. He also talks of modeling the universe, or at least certain aspects of it, using mathematics - and using mathematics to search for the truth. He concludes with a "mathematical adventure," where you, the reader, travels through a series of linked frames exploring a certain mathematical curiousity.
I recommend this book for teenagers developing an interest in mathematics, but also for those who think that mathematics can't be interesting, and even for math teachers - so that they can take a look at their work and all its wonderful applications.
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3.0 out of 5 stars MATHEMATICAL MISCELLANY September 19, 2013
Hmm. I guess I would award this book somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. It is more of a Mathematical Miscellany than anything else.

I quite like the historical pieces. It is always of interest to look at the work of the giants of a subject. For example (on page 88), Wells doffs his cap to whom he rightly calls "two great masters" namely Euler and Ramanujan. (Actually they were stellar geniuses). And he gives an example concerning infinite series that they worked on.

He says "Ramanujan's mathematics is like Tal's chess, dazzling." Yes indeed. I get the Tal reference and have seen many of his games but I wonder has the general reader done so? Maybe they will miss these chess cultural references.

I would happily give this book 4 stars but I find the printed text therein to be a bit on the small side. This is not the fault of the author but it detracts from the enjoyment of the book. That and the diagrams have a kind of squashed feel to them, as if too much tried to be squeezed into the book. A more gracious use of space would be easier on the eye. For example the "Solutions to problems, Chapter 5" is squashed underneath some preceding text. It would have been better to have begun the next page with this instead. Or at least have it placed a bit lower down on the page.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Some great mathematicians are born and others are made by having ability that is well applied. Furthermore, even if they do not understand it, nearly all people appreciate mathematics and all it is used for. The last group is more to the point of this book, in that the definition of a mathematician as referenced in the title is being extended to include those who appreciate what mathematics can do. Functions in math libraries are what I use as first examples as objects in my programming courses. Even though the students do not understand the behavior of functions such as the sine and cosine, they do understand the concept of a function call better when it is presented in a mathematical context.
This book is a collection of many mathematical discoveries that have occurred down through the centuries. Some have significant applications, but most would be excellent fits within the definition of recreational mathematics. Topics such as patterns in numbers, mathematical games and mathematics for enjoyment are covered. Problems for examination and clarification are interspersed throughout the chapters with solutions at the end of the chapter. It is an ideal book for those who are interested in mathematics as a subject to explore for the purity of expression. As is pointed out in the text, there is a finality found in mathematics that exists nowhere else. Once something is proven and the proof is completely verified, the theorem is then an absolute truth. The level of difficulty is such that a solid background in algebra is the only requirement for understanding what is being described.
While the level of student performance in mathematics at all levels is often depressing, it is gratifying to see so many popular mathematics books being published.
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