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The Colossal Book of Mathematics: Classic Puzzles, Paradoxes, and Problems Hardcover – September 17, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
This weighty collection, containing 50 of what the Annotated Alice annotator and popular science journalist considers his best Scientific American "Mathematical Games" columns, is sure to please the relatively small but intensely loyal coterie of Gardner fans. Arranged in 12 broad categories (arithmetic and algebra, plane geometry, topology, infinity, etc.), these pieces cover subjects that will delight recreational math buffs, such as Penrose tiles, hypercubes, Klein bottles and fractal music. In addition to an up-to-date bibliography, each section includes a new, sometimes lengthy addendum, which should be the main hook for those who already own the 15 volumes of Gardner's complete Scientific American columns. While books on math for general audiences by authors such as Amir Aczel have been in vogue of late, they've tended to focus on personalities and to avoid equations. Since this collection is filled with problems and expressions (illustrated with 320 line drawings) that require solving with pencil and paper, its appeal should be mainly limited to puzzle nuts, but Gardner's elegant style could draw in new aficionados. An enemy of charlatanry and pretension, who appreciates the beauty and complexity of language as well as numbers (and still actively writing at age 86), Gardner remains a model of clear prose, understated wit and intellectual honesty.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
“For more than half a century, Martin Gardner has been the single brightest beacon defending rationality and good science. . . . He is also one of the most brilliant men and gracious writers I have known.”
- Stephen Jay Gould
Top customer reviews
Although some people might think that "recreational mathematics" is a contradiction of terms, Gardner's insight and excellent writing style really do make mathematics enjoyable. At one level, the book can be thought of as a collection of puzzles, in that Gardner often uses a puzzle or otherwise poses a question to ask how a problem can be solved. The book goes way beyond a collection of puzzles, in that Gardner really provides an overview of mathematics concepts involved and goes beyond the simple solution of the puzzle to give the reader a sense of particular concepts in mathematics (e.g., topology). His approach really makes mathematics quite interesting.
I am sure that Gardner's original column got many people (including myself) interested in mathematics, and I hope that this collection will help a new group of readers to develop and maintain curiosity regarding mathematics and its applications. It is, for example, something that teachers might want to refer their students to. If you haven't read other books by Gardner, this is a very good place to start -- I would also recommend his essay collection "The Night is Large" that shows his amazing range of interests (of which mathematics is one part).
The book consists of numerous short articles with bibliographies for each. If one article bores you, move on to the next... I found the articles on statistics, logical paradoxes, a 2D Universe (Planiverse) and others very interesting and enjoyable. It is important to understand that this book is not a puzzle book per se; although almost every articles includes some task for hard-core readers to perform ("Prove that...", or "How many..."), it is really intended as reading material.
A few negatives: the articles almost all seem to have been written in the 1950s or 1960s (!); each article has an addendum which attempts to bring it up to date. Although this didn't matter that much to me, since I have never read anything on recreational mathematics, I doubt that much of the material would be new for anyone that reads the topic regularly. Similarly, it would have been more interesting to discover what topics are currently "hot" in this field. Also, the author spends too much time for my taste on trivial mathematical games such as folding paper into different shapes rather than on really thought-provoking mathematical topics (purely a personal preference, I suppose).