- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 31, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143117378
- ISBN-13: 978-0143117377
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 56 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #449,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse Paperback – August 31, 2010
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"If, like me, you love the neatness of calculus but never appreciated its applications or the colourful characters who have used it through history, then these diaries are well worth a read."
"In The Calculus Diaries, science writer Jennifer Ouellette makes maths palatable using a mix of humour, anecdote and enticing facts...Using everyday examples, such as petrol mileage and fairground rides, Ouellette makes even complex ideas such as calculus and probability appealing."
"This dash through a daunting discipline bursts with wry wit. Ouellette uses differential equations to model the spread of zombies, and derivatives to craft the perfect diet. Sassy throughout, she reserves special barbs for subprime mortgage holders: "Chances are they weren't doing the math."
"The Calculus Diaries is a great primer for anyone who needs to get over their heebie-jeebies about an upcoming calculus class, or for anyone who's ever wondered how calculus fits into everyday life and wants to be entertained, too!"
-Danica McKellar, New York Times bestselling author of Math Doesn't Suck and Hot X: Algebra Exposed
"I haven't had this much fun learning math since I watched The Count on 'Sesame Street' when I was three. And the Count never talked about log flumes or zombies. So The Calculus Diaries wins the day."
-AJ Jacobs, author of The Know-it-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
"Zombies? Surfing? Gambling? Nobody told me calculus could be like this. To my twelfth-grade math teacher: I demand a do-over!"
-Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex and The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution
"Back in the day, when I was close to flunking out of calculus class because I couldn't understand why it was worth my valuable time to actually understand it, I needed someone like Jennifer Ouellette to gently explain how I wrong I was. She's like every English major's dream math teacher: funny, smart, infected with communicable enthusiasm, and she can rock a Buffy reference. In this book, she hastens the day when more people are familiar with an integral function than with Justin Bieber."
-Peter Sagal, host, NPR's "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me," and author of The Book of Vice
"In this wonderful and compulsively readable book, Jennifer Ouellette finds the signature of mathematics -- and especially calculus, of course -- in the most unexpected places, the gorgeously lunatic architecture of Spain's Antonio Gaudi, the shimmering arc of waves on a beach. Just following her on the journey is the half the fun. But the other half is learning about the natural beauty and elegance of calculations. Ouellette's ever clear and always stimulating voice is a perfect match to the subject - and The Calculus Diaries is a tour de force."
-Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
"As amusing as it is enlightening, The Calculus Diaries is no dry survey of abstractions. It's a guide to everyday life -- to car trips and roller- coaster rides, diet and exercise, mortgages and the housing bubble, even social networking. As Ouellette modestly recounts her own learning curve, she and her husband become characters alongside eccentrics such as Newton and Gaudi and William the Conqueror. Like a great dance teacher, Ouellette steers us so gently we think we're gliding along on our own."
-Michael Sims, author of Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form
"Jennifer Ouellette's calculus confessional is a delight, and an example of the finest kind of science writing. Her book reveals to its readers the gritty inner workings of the most important idea humans have ever thought. (Yes, calculus is that big: it's all about understanding how things change in space and time, and there just isn't much more important than that.) Ouellette's wit, her elegant wielding of metaphor, and her passion for both math and funky culture produce this crucial insight: every equation tells a story, she says, and she's right, and the tales she tells here will captivate even the most math-phobic."
-Tom Levenson, author of Newton and the Counterfeiter
"Like the movies Batman Begins, Spider-Man, or Superman, The Calculus Diaries is the story of how an insightful, creative, and hard-working young person acquires superpowers and uses them for the benefit of society. Only this tale is true: Jennifer Ouellette can't fly or spin a web, but she can spin a yarn. The Calculus Diaries documents the author's seduction by mathematics and her conquering of it--Eureka!--to see the world with sharper vision. For too many people math, calculus in particular, is an albatross. But Ouellette reveals math for what it is, a powerful tool for solving problems and the exquisite language we use to describe nature. Reading this book will make you smarter. And more powerful."
-Eric Roston, author of The Carbon Age
"If you ever thought that math was useless, read this book. Want to survive a zombie attack? Win at craps? Beat a zombie at craps? Well, listen to Jennifer Ouellette. The math she describes might just be your best hope if you don't want your brains to be gobbled by the undead."
-Charles Seife, author of Zero: Biography of a Dangerous Idea
"A charming and gentle introduction to important mathematical concepts and their relevance to everyday life."
-Leonard Mlodinow, author of The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
About the Author
Jennifer Ouellette is a science journalist and the author of several books, including The Calculus Diaries, The Physics of the Buffyverse, and Black Bodies and Quantum Cats. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Discover, Salon, and Nature, among other publications. She writes a science and culture blog called Cocktail Party Physics on the Scientific American website. Ouellette served from 2008 to 2010 as the director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange, a program of the National Academy of Sciences that aims to foster creative collaborations between scientists and entertainment-industry professionals. She has also been the journalist in residence at the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara and an instructor at the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop. Ouellette holds a black belt in jujitsu and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Caltech physicist Sean Carroll.
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When dealing with pure scientific and mathematical concepts, the author is at her best and not over the head of the lay person. The appendix treatment of the basic concepts of calculus is outstanding. But when she stretches its applicability, she loses some credibility.
And all of that zombie nonsense was, I supposed, just inserted for humor. The living dead among us and their fans will no doubt appreciate it. Personally, I would have preferred some Mr. Spock explanations of the mathematics behind the starship Enterprise, if fiction is what she wants to use.
And her effort to link calculus to sports through surfing, a sport familiar to very few people in relation to baseball, football, basketball, soccer, hockey, fails unless of course you are into surfing.
So there were good things and not so good things. I'm glad I read the book. When it was good, it was very good. When it was bad, it was, well, just a bit of a stretch.
1) It tries to do too much. The book attempts at once to tell Ouellette's adventures in learning calculus; which involves anecdotes as a thought experiment she imagined while staying in traffic, going to the casino, and learning how to surf; be funny and easy-going diverging from the subject matter (once to talk about a zombie attack); present calculus putting as few equations as possible, teach you how to do some calculus and show some history behind great mathematicians. Due to that, it becomes unfocused, and doesn't give its topics as many pages and attention they deserve.
2) Pictures, diagrams and equations often can do a fine job at simplifying what could be messy to explain in english, and this book just doesn't take much advantage of that. In the entire book there are 40 + pictures; but I don't think it's nearly enough for a person seeing this math for the first time (I may be wrong, because I was familiar with calculus before buying the book, so I can't really know), in special because most of them just show the picture of a function's graph.
1) It is nice to see in a popular math book some mention of female mathematicians. There have been few of them, but some are really noteworthy, yet are forgotten to an extent. For instance, this book discusses the lives and achievements of Sophie Germain and Agnesi.
2) The anecdotes of math history were a very good choice on Oullette's part, they are very interesting.
Overall, I like this book, and it's worth the money. Don't expect to have many new skills by the time you're finished, or to be prepared for a course in calculus, but it should inspire you to learn more about math, even if just for distraction. The fact the author herself had a phobia about math and now is so comfortable as to write a book about it is in itself encouraging.
If you want to learn more about math history: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0395929687/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d0_g14_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0XF6CWSRH8E86GMAMHKV&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=470938631&pf_rd_i=507846
If you want to practice algebra and/or calculus:
http://www.amazon.com/Schaums-000-Solved-Problems-Calculus/dp/0071635343/ref=sr_1_25?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326655631&sr=1-25#_ (the pace is very fast, so at points you might need to consult more on the theory, but nothing an internet research won't make up for, and the exercises simply make for great practice).
Thoroughly entertaining , and engaging. This is not a math book. It will not teach math or make your existing classes come to life. It does however, give interesting incite to the origins and uses of calculus. It can be an inspiration to take a calculus class.