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A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper

4.2 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0385482547
ISBN-10: 038548254X
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Math professor Paulos's irreverent investigation of the often faulty use of statistics and fact in newspaper articles.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

... this book should be mandatory reading for every journalist - as well as the readers, viewers and former tutors they supposedly serve. -- Robert Matthews, New Scientist, 1995

A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper is irresistible. -- Rudy Rucker, Scientific American, 1995

Although the combination of math and newspapers sounds uniquely unappetizing, John Allen Paulos creates a truly thought- provoking book from that mixture. -- USA Today, Best Bet, 1995

But the dirty secret about the media's contribution to American "Innumeracy," first examined in a delightful book by that title by John Allen Paulos, is about to be revealed in his sequel, "A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. -- Max Frankel, New York Times, 1995

Even better, Paulos' wit and humor - admirably displayed in Innumeracy - are in top form. His irreverent and pointed comments entertain as well as educate. Though Paulos writes about a bewildering number of topics, he has something fresh and interesting to say about each. -- Charles Seife, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1995

In his new book, the mathematician John Allen Paulos continues his witty crusade against mathematical illiteracy ...... Mr. Paulos's little essay explaining the Banzhaf power index and how it relates to Lani Guinier's ideas about empowering minorities is itself worth the price of the book. -- Richard Bernstein, New York Times, 1995

It would be great to have John Allen Paulos living next door. Every morning when you read the paper and came across some story that didn't seem quite right - that had the faint odor of illogic hovering about it - you could just lean out the window and shout, "Jack! Get the hell over here!"..... Paulos, who wrote the bestseller Innumeracy (the mathematical equivalent of illiteracy), has now written a fun, spunky, wise little book that would be helpful to both the consumers of the news and its purveyors. -- Joel Achenbach, Washington Post, 1995

Paulos uses his considerable talents and a breezy style to discuss many ways to apply simple, or at least simply explained, mathematics and logic to analyze the contents of the newspaper. ... the book is a compendium of unusually sound advice, which, if widely read and understood, could improve a lot more for us than the way we read the newspaper. -- Journal of the American Medical Association, 1995

This is press criticism, but not of the usual kind .... This is press criticism of the sort that George Orwell had in mind when he observed that what's important isn't news, and what's news isn't important. ..... This is a subversive book. Paulos argues that the world is so complex that it cannot be accurately described, much less manipulated. ...... a wise and thoughtful book, which skewers much of what everyone knows to be true. -- Lee Dembart, Los Angeles Times, 1995
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (September 26, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038548254X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385482547
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #494,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on June 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
I found Professor Paulos's book, Innumeracy, to be a delightful expression of the key elements of mathematical ignorance that can be harmful, along with many new ways to see and think about the world around. You can imagine how much more pleased I was to find that A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper is an improvement over that valuable book. Every editor and newspaper writer should be required to read and apply this book before beginning their careers. Almost all those who love the news will find some new appreciation for how it could be better reported. Those who will benefit most are those with the least amount of background in math, logic and psychology. Although the subjects are often related to math, if you can multiple two numbers together using a calculator you will probably understand almost all of the sections. If you already know math well, this book will probably only provide amusement in isolated examples and you may not find it has enough new to really educate you. Most of the points are regularly treated in the mathematics literature.
In the introduction, Professor Paulos reveals a long and abiding love for newspapers. And he reads a lot of them. He subscribes to the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times, skims the Wall Street Journal and the Philadelphia Daily News, and occasionally looks at USA Today (he likes weather maps in color on occasion), the Washington Post, the suburban Ambler Gazette, the Bar Harbor Times, the local paper of any city he is in, and the tabloids.
This knowledge is reflected in the book's structure. There are four sections, reflecting the typical four section format of many weekday papers.
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Format: Paperback
Althought it took a few chapters to get in to the groove of the book, "A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper" quickly drew my interest. Although some topics are repetitive, and at times you wonder what the point is, in essence the author does a good job at teaching us how to understand what we read. Broken down in short (2-3 page) chapters, this book is ideal for people who need something to read for 5-10 minutes - although it is just as rewarding in a longer-term reading session. The use of complex math is limited, and he explains things well - although some may have to re-read his mathematical and logical points to fully understand them. Overall, for people intrigued with logic, mathematics, or understanding how people perceive the world, it's a worthy read.
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Format: Paperback
This is a clever and useful book about the foibles in the media's use of statistics, with short primers on complexity, psychology, and probability theory -- and an occasional lapse into philosophizing that ends almost as soon as it begins. Ultimately this book, deliberately written so as to emulate the fragmented, unsustained format of the newspaper, suffers from this very cleverness: no issue is taken up long enough for Paulos to do it proper justice, very much like the newspaper (and television) reporting of which he is so rightly skeptical.
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Format: Paperback
Paulos' warm and inviting style and his relationship with newspapers made me reminisce of the evenings I spent reading the "green pages" while visiting my grandparents in Milwaukee. I enjoyed his tour of scientific journalism and working through his math puzzlers. This book provides perfect examples for applying statistical knowledge in the real world. It's a wonderful tool for demonstrating the fruits of critical thinking. I especially like the short chapter format. Any stats instructor (or any social science instructor for that matter) will be glad they read it
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Format: Paperback
Should be required reading for journalists, and, since it isn't, the rest of us should read it so we'll recognize how we are being misled by journalists' ignorance.
Using actual stories covered in the various sections of the newspaper, Paulos explains mathematical concepts that should have been considered by the reporter. He says that, in addition to the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, reporters should ask how many, how does that quantity compare with other quantities, are we looking at the right categories and relationships, are the statistics derived from a random sample or a collection of anecdotes...
One example Paulos provides shows how readers can be misled by numbers, especially if the reporter uses the numbers provided by a biased source. In a story about contamination, suppose a pint of a toxic chemical were spilled in the ocean and the chemical becomes evenly dispersed around the globe. Seems like a minuscule amount of contamination, and not worth worrying about. But, if the ocean water were tested, it would show almost 6,000 molecules of that toxic chemical in a pint of water. Now, it looks like a reason to panic.
Although not an easy read, most of the math is simply and entertainingly presented, and occasional dull passages are short and easily skipped.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Our world is permeated by the fragrance of that which is not so, and this is the book to help you detect it from a mile away. In this entertaining volume, Paulos dissected example articles from his years of studying the newspaper, showing what the journalist reported and how the numbers in the articles were applied (usually incorrectly) in each case. Each topic includes discussions of the logic behind the newspaper articles and of the math that underlies the claims made by the writers. It seems that one could realize almost full value from the book even if the math is too hard to follow. However, I particularly enjoyed his detailed reviews of the appropriate calculations. I heartily recommend the book to anyone who wants to become a better-informed citizen and a skilled spotter of BS.
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