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Number-Crunching: Taming Unruly Computational Problems from Mathematical Physics to Science Fiction Paperback – August 28, 2011

4.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Great stories. Interesting and challenging problems. Instructive MATLAB code. Lots of physics. That's my in-a-nutshell assessment. . . . Nahin takes on the subject of using computers to solve difficult problems, many in physics, that couldn't be solved before computers. . . . This is one of those books that one can read as a spectator, enjoying the scenery, taking in the landscape, appreciating the rich stories--my relationship with the book--or one can dive in, study the many equations, run the code, and have a personal experience of how problems that were unsolvable just a few decades ago have succumbed to computers."--Sol Lederman, Wild About Math

"Number Crunching is most timely, given the escalating scale of economic, commercial, and financial transactions, necessitating thinking about, evaluating, and communicating on a much larger scale. . . . The presentation in Number Crunching is simultaneously accessible, readable, entertaining, daunting, sophisticated, and technical."--Stephen E. Roulac, New York Journal of Books

"Number-Crunching is packed with copious notes and references and augmented by significant challenge problems that take the reader beyond the text and which would make good undergraduate projects. . . . Nahin's aim is clearly to convey enthusiasm for the subject to a younger reader and to give a glimpse of what is technically possible. . . . He looks to convey the excitement that he and many of us had when first attracted to the physical sciences as we were growing up--the excitement at the realisation that, given a few tools, even an awkward teenager can make quantitative statements about the world."--C.J. Howls, Times Higher Education

"Paul Nahin, a prolific and knowledgeable expository writer, is a professor emeritus of electrical engineering at the University of New Hampshire. What he offers in Number-Crunching might be described as a mix of (1) supplementary readings for courses in mathematics, physics, or electrical engineering, (2) 'challenge problems' intended as a brain-jogging call to prospective professionals, and (3) a garage sale of mathematical miscellania and esoterica."--Philip J. Davis, SIAM News

"[Number-Crunching] is impressive for several reasons. First, Nahin has found the right level--not too easy and not too hard. Second, the problem selections and topics are interesting and in several cases give surprising results. Finally, the book is just plain fun."--Choice

"[A] highly entertaining and rewarding read."--Dean Rickles, Mathematical Reviews

"Unlike writers of popular mathematics books, Nahin is more then happy to spray the pages with equations! Since these are surrounded by lucid and informal explanations, they add significant value to the book. . . . Whether or not you are the computing type, there is a lot to enjoy about this book."--Alan Stevens, Mathematics TODAY

"Many of these challenge problems would make excellent projects--both in mathematics or physics--for undergraduates to explore. Number-Crunching's greatest strength is providing a perspective on how three unique yet vastly intertwined fields interact while keeping readers more and more intrigued as they progress through the text. Readers will find abundant resources to quench their thirst for knowledge of computational mathematics and physics."--Brandon Milanovich, Mathematics Teacher

From the Back Cover

"While there is a plethora of computational physics books, only this one brings the sheer joy and fascination of the subject to the general reader. The problems in Number-Crunching are nicely selected, the prose is clear and humorous, and the solutions range from the interesting to the gloriously counterintuitive. With the ubiquity of powerful personal computers and the easy availability of scientific software, this is a very timely book."--Lawrence Weinstein, coauthor of Guesstimation

"Nahin's work is always highly interesting. His book tackles a large number of problems that can be handled by an adroit combination of pencil-and-paper work and, where the analytics get too difficult, numerical computation. This book is great and I really enjoyed it."--Charles Adler, St. Mary's College

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691144257
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691144252
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #888,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Ed Pegg Jr VINE VOICE on September 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday -- Question: If Farmer A can plant 300 potatoes an hour, and Farmer B can plant potatoes fifty percent faster, and Farmer C can plant potatoes one third as fast as farmer B, and 10,000 potatoes are to be planted to an acre, how many nine-hour days will it take Farmers A, B, and C, working simultaneously, to plant 25 acres? Answer: I think I'll blow my brains out.

That's the opening quote. The author suggests that if your reaction was less extreme than Vonnegut's, and you started working out an answer, then his book is probably for you! I've enjoyed his other books, about srqt(-1), and Euler's Formula, so I tried out this one.

The book has sample tricky problems involving boundary conditions, electric circuits, chaos theory, differential amplifiers, heat transfer, n-body problems, and predator-prey equations. These are all explained well.

Unfortunately, the book isn't really cutting edge. For example, page 329, on zeros of the Riemann Zeta function: "Trillions of complex zeros have been calculated since 1859, and every last one of them does indeed have a real part of 1/2." The actual story is more recent. The Zetagrid project calculated 935.7 billion nontrivial zeros by the year 2004. Xavier Gourdon then found a much faster method, and calculated the first 10 trillion zeros that same year.

The computers of today are roughly a billion times more powerful than computers of 1980 or earlier.
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If you enjoy applied mathematics, MATLAB, fun with numbers, physics and electrical engineering, buy this book.
You'll appreciate his MATLAB treatment of the three body problem as well as his discussions of ladder networks.
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This is an excellent author; interesting and entertaining. The illustrations depict the complexity and difficulty of problems that we have all heard about; but, haven't had to deal with personally [unless you are a talented engineer / scientist]. The tools he uses to approach these problems are a highlight of the book -- should you desire to tackle a difficult problem, you can make an enlightened choice from his experiments with different techniques.
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