Top critical review
43 people found this helpful
It provides some exposure to problem solving.
on November 20, 2012
Good aspects of this book have been said by most of the other reviewers. The main problem with such books is that for slightly experienced problem solvers, this book probably does not provide a whole lot of information as to what needs to be done to get better. For instance, for a kid who is in 10th grade struggling with math, this is a very good book. For a kid who is in his 11th grade trying for math Olympiad or for people looking at Putnam, this book won't provide much help.
Most people simply say that "practice makes perfect". When it comes to contest level problems, it is not as simple as that. There are experienced trainers like Professor Titu Andreescu who spend a lot of time training kids to get better. There is lot more to it than simply trying out tough problems.
The most common situation occurs when you encounter extremely tough questions like the Olympiad ones. Most people simply sit and stare at the problem and don't go beyond that. Even the kids who are extremely fast with 10th grade math miserably fail. Why?
The ONE book which explains this is titled "Mathematical Problem Solving" written by Professor Alan Schoenfeld. It is simply amazing. A must buy. In case you have ever wondered why, in spite of being lightning fast in solving textbook exercises in the 10th and 11th grade, you fail in being able to solve even a single problem from the IMO, you have to read this book. I am surprised to see Polya's book getting mentioned so very often bu nobody ever mentions Schoenfeld's book. It is a must read book for ANY math enthusiast and the math majors.
After reading this book, you will possibly get a picture as to what is involved in solving higher level math problems especially the psychology of it. You need to know that as psychology is one of the greatest hurdles to over when it comes to solving contest problems. Then you move on to "Thinking Mathematically" written by J. Mason et al. It has problems which are only few times too hard but most of the times, have just enough "toughness" for the author to make the point ONLY IF THE STUDENT TRIES THEM OUT.
The next level would be Paul Zeitz's The Art and Craft of Problem Solving. This book also explains the mindset needed for solving problems of the Olympiad kind. At this point, you will probably realize what ExACTLY it means when others say that "problem solving is all about practice". All the while you would be thinking "practice what? I simply cannot make the first move successfully and how can I practice when I can't even solve one problem even when I tried for like a month". It is problem solving and not research in math that you are trying to do. You will probably get a better picture after going through the above three books.
Finally, you can move on to Arthur Engel's Problem Solving Strategies and Titu Andreescu's Mathematical Olympiad Challenges if you managed to get to this point. There is also problem solving through problems by Loren Larson. These are helpful only if you could solve Paul Zeitz's book successfully.
To conclude, if you are looking for guidance at the level of math Olympiad, look for other books. This book won't be of much assistance. On the other hand, if you are simply trying to get better at grade school math, this book will be very useful.