- Series: Princeton Science Library
- Paperback 288 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; Princeton Science Li edition (September 25, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 069111966X
- ISBN-13: 978-0691119663
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 122 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (Princeton Science Library) Princeton Science Li Edition
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"Every prospective teacher should read it. In particular, graduate students will find it invaluable. The traditional mathematics professor who reads a paper before one of the Mathematical Societies might also learn something from the book: 'He writes a, he says b, he means c; but it should be d.' "--E. T. Bell, Mathematical Monthly
"[This] elementary textbook on heuristic reasoning, shows anew how keen its author is on questions of method and the formulation of methodological principles. Exposition and illustrative material are of a disarmingly elementary character, but very carefully thought out and selected."--Herman Weyl, Mathematical Review
"I recommend it highly to any person who is seriously interested in finding out methods of solving problems, and who does not object to being entertained while he does it."--Scientific Monthly
"Any young person seeking a career in the sciences would do well to ponder this important contribution to the teacher's art."--A. C. Schaeffer, American Journal of Psychology
"Every mathematics student should experience and live this book"--Mathematics Magazine
"In an age that all solutions should be provided with the least possible effort, this book brings a very important message: mathematics and problem solving in general needs a lot of practice and experience obtained by challenging creative thinking, and certainly not by copying predefined recipes provided by others. Let's hope this classic will remain a source of inspiration for several generations to come."--A. Bultheel, European Mathematical Society
About the Author
George Polya (1887-1985) was one of the most influential mathematicians of the twentieth century. His basic research contributions span complex analysis, mathematical physics, probability theory, geometry, and combinatorics. He was a teacher par excellence who maintained a strong interest in pedagogical matters throughout his long career. Even after his retirement from Stanford University in 1953, he continued to lead an active mathematical life. He taught his final course, on combinatorics, at the age of ninety. John H. Conway is professor emeritus of mathematics at Princeton University. He was awarded the London Mathematical Society's Polya Prize in 1987. Like Polya, he is interested in many branches of mathematics, and in particular, has invented a successor to Polya's notation for crystallographic groups.
Top customer reviews
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It is actually very little theory and more of how to actually approach hard problems.
The very first part of the book lays it down on what Polya will drill upon the reader. The essential idea is basically a framework laid upon the reader on how to solve difficult problems — particularly in the realm of mathematics and logic.
Why is this valuable? We tend to flail our hands and throw down the pen when we encounter a hard problem. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a systematic way, or yet a solution in which we can see on the horizon and eventually reach? This is the book that will teach us for that very purpose!
The main idea is basically of when attempting to solve a hard problem, we must consider the following and ask ourselves the following:
1. What is the unknown?
2. What is the data that is presented?
3. Did we make use of all the conditions presented by the problem?
These three questions can virtually help us self reflect on how we solve problems and in time, with much practice — aid us in actually becoming smarter problem solvers. Are geniuses born, or bred? Is it nature, or nurture?
Well, with this framework in mind, acquiring the persona of the genius interpreted by others becomes more nurture than anything.
So what if we are still stuck on the problem? First thing is first, the point in which Polya makes is that we should not rush. We should not attempt to solve a problem when we have an incomplete understanding of the problem, or task. Before declaring ourselves stuck.. we must ask ourselves if we truly have a grasp of the problem in front of us.
Ask ourself again… have we seen a similar problem before in the past? Better yet, have we solved a similar problem in the past? Can we somehow use that prior knowledge and integrate it into the process of attempting to solve the current problem?
Finding sub-problems, or problems within the problem in which we can solve can possibly help us with the overall problem. Can we find the connection between the data presented and the unknown? Notice, and I agree with Polya in that we tend to not have a thorough understanding of the problem if we cannot answer these questions.
The most important takeaway I received from reading this book was this:
If I find myself making progress on a problem, I should keep working on each step in a precise and detailed manner. I must be sure I can give justification on why I have approached each step the way I chose to.
If I achieve the result, make sure I can check the result. Can I go back and reproduce it? Can I devise a similar example with a set of parameters to produce a predictable result?
Upon reading all this, I had the realization that not only is this is the basis for problem-solving — it is the key to solving algorithms problems.
Confirming the result is one thing, but Polya makes the key suggestion in that we must STOP! We should not move on. A difficult problem requires reflection. We must take time to reflect on the thought process we have taken to work out the problem. This will help us remember how we were able to solve the problem using the specific tools in our mental toolkit. It will help us with future problems.
At some point during attempts to solve a difficult problem, we may get discouraged. We can’t give up! If we make one small step towards our solution, we need to appreciate the advancement. We need to be patient and take each step as a piece of the overall composition of the essential idea.
Take our guesses seriously, and don’t rush. Being aware of a “hunch” and keeping it in consideration may lead to a serious breakthrough. Well, just as long as we are cautious! We need to examine any guesses critically and see if they can be of use to us.
How to Solve It was amazing in drilling to me the overall problem solving process and caused me to self reflect on how I should approach hard problems. I don’t think I was that terrible at working on problems before — but now I truly believe I can become better at problem-solving and analysis if I take a step back and actually self-reflect on various points of the problem solving process.
Developing such a habit and practicing it as if it was nature is key.
This was overall a great read. It took me about a week to read and was a bit more difficult to go through — partly because it was so thought provoking!
The only downside was that I believe that the book went a little too long and the pace changed 75% of the way through. I believe the examples presented either went over my head purely due to lack of interest, or by then, I had already become convinced with the philosophy drilled by G. Polya on how to problem solve.
If you're a young but eager student who faces problems in math (or in natural sciences), a person trying to solve some puzzles or practical problems, or a researcher about to start a long and unguaranteed journey in order to solve a big problem then you owe yourself to have this classic on your bookshelf, or better on your table.
I'd like to quote some important passages from the book but last time I checked my notes they are about as long as the book. So maybe it is better to let Polya do the talking...
Modern Math texts cite this book constantly. They elevate the 5 step process to the word of the (something). Unfortunately, the rest of the text is about performing step 3, solving the algebraic equation. Step 2, writing the equation is the harder part for most students. Practice step 2 every day, and you will become master of time and space. We got computers to do step 3, that's not the hard part.
I tell students this book is about how to solve word problems. It is not about math, but how to use it.
I found a copy of it in a stack of books in a sandwich shop on Main street. It belongs in every stack of books everywhere. It will improve the world.