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An Unusual Book of Wide Interest
on July 21, 2002
The Heart of Mathematics is an unconventional math survey aimed primarily at social science and humanities students. While students in "soft" majors are the primary intended audience, math majors and others who have already progressed beyond the introductory level are likely to find this book of great interest as well.
The book gives readers a good feel for the variety of problems that mathematicians tackle. In fact, one of the book's great strengths is the range of topics it covers, from number theory and games, to topology, to chaos and fractals. It does this with little use of conventional mathematical notation or jargon, and the level of presentation is so elementary that the book can be "read" just as any non-technical book can be read. At the same time, the authors go to great lengths to encourage reader participation. Many hands-on demonstrations and experiments are provided, and the end-of-chapter exercises ask readers to discuss the material with others and write about their experiences.
The topics presented are fascinating. I read this book on my vacation and found several passages to read to my wife and daughter almost every day. (This provided a lot of amusement for everyone when my 12-year-old daughter would solve problems in a few seconds that I had been pondering without much success.)
The book's subtitle is "An Invitation to Effective Thinking," and the authors present problem-solving strategies that can be applied to problems within and outside the field of mathematics. While readers will no doubt be familiar with many of them already, it is difficult for me to imagine anyone who would not benefit from at least some of the strategies presented.
The authors' writing is very informal with a lot of corny humor - possibly too much for a lot of people - but at the same time you do get a sense of the authors as good guys who know some important things and want to share the wealth.
In summary, this is a most unusual and stimulating book. Highly recommended.