How Not to Be Wrong

How Not to Be Wrong

The Power of Mathematical Thinking

Book - 2014
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The Freakonomics of math -- a math-world superstar unveils the hidden beauty and logic of the world and puts its power in our hands

The math we learn in school can seem like a dull set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In How Not to Be Wrong , Jordan Ellenberg shows us how terribly limiting this view is: Math isn't confined to abstract incidents that never occur in real life, but rather touches everything we do--the whole world is shot through with it.

Math allows us to see the hidden structures underneath the messy and chaotic surface of our world. It's a science of not being wrong, hammered out by centuries of hard work and argument. Armed with the tools of mathematics, we can see through to the true meaning of information we take for granted: How early should you get to the airport? What does "public opinion" really represent? Why do tall parents have shorter children? Who really won Florida in 2000? And how likely are you, really, to develop cancer?

How Not to Be Wrong presents the surprising revelations behind all of these questions and many more, using the mathematician's method of analyzing life and exposing the hard-won insights of the academic community to the layman--minus the jargon. Ellenberg chases mathematical threads through a vast range of time and space, from the everyday to the cosmic, encountering, among other things, baseball, Reaganomics, daring lottery schemes, Voltaire, the replicability crisis in psychology, Italian Renaissance painting, artificial languages, the development of non-Euclidean geometry, the coming obesity apocalypse, Antonin Scalia's views on crime and punishment, the psychology of slime molds, what Facebook can and can't figure out about you, and the existence of God.

Ellenberg pulls from history as well as from the latest theoretical developments to provide those not trained in math with the knowledge they need. Math, as Ellenberg says, is "an atomic-powered prosthesis that you attach to your common sense, vastly multiplying its reach and strength." With the tools of mathematics in hand, you can understand the world in a deeper, more meaningful way. How Not to Be Wrong will show you how.

Publisher: New York :, The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,, 2014, ©2014.
ISBN: 9781594205224
Branch Call Number: 510 ELL
Characteristics: 468 pages : illustrations, map

Opinion

From Library Staff

List - Happy Pi Day!
Jessica_c Mar 07, 2016

I'm going to let the author tell you why you should read this book: Math, as Ellenberg says, is "an atomic-powered prosthesis that you attach to your common sense, vastly multiplying its reach and strength." Doesn't that sound fun?


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BRADCARL
May 15, 2019

4.3 Stars

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SeattleSaul
Apr 22, 2019

A hefty tome covering numerous mathematical topics that takes as its starting point the title and then wanders off in various direction. I read some sections in detail and learned a few things but skipped through a lot of the rest without completing the book to the end. It is also very much too wordy. The mathematics and logic as presented are comprehendible, I believe, without advanced degrees but leaves me feeling bloated with lecture material. The writer although qualified in the subjects, should have tried to stick closer to logic, games, and gambling and cutting it short to 300 pages rather than double (or a second edition, if needed).

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1aa
Feb 20, 2019

A relatively easy to read book about mathematics, mostly statistics. There is a jauntiness to the tone, and humour every once in a while. There was a rather lot of space devoted to picking lottery numbers, and how three consortiums tried - and succeeded for a time - to beat the lottery and make it a profitable business. There are many little rules of thumb, often one in each chapter, like "twice a tiny number is a tiny number" (p.120) (reflecting on this will make you wonder about why there is such public hysteria about drunk driving, rape, murder, child molestation, when there is, say, a forty percent increase over the previous year), "the significance test is the detective, not the judge" (p.160) (think about all of the 'new research findings' in medical news reports), and "its not always wrong to be wrong" (p.355) (when you're angry with another narcissistic politician (...well...on second thought...)). The most touching part was on pages 412-13, about how the genius cult in mathematics can really demotivate prospective mathematicians.

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ChrisMcMil
Nov 20, 2017

A very informative and wide-ranging book, full of useful insight, mostly dealing with the right way to understand uncertainty. It is easy to read and even entertaining. Ellenberg sheds much needed light on the interpretation of those clinical trial results that advertisers (and the popular media) so often quote with contradictory messages! He even shows how various types of electoral reform may not produce the expected results. While you don't need a math background to follow him, neither will your be bored if you do have one. This is not a complete inoculation against ``fake news``, but it is a good start.

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pm221
May 10, 2017

Well worth reading if only for the section on P-values, which should be mandatory for any-one interested in medical research or latest developments.

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shorty_parsecs
Jan 13, 2016

Jordan Ellenberg is easy to read given the topic of mathematics. He gets into analysis including the lottery which is relevant today cos it's over a $bln (if you are into that). Looks like he hand drew alotta his illustrations. Has a YouTube of lecture regarding book topic.

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maroon_chicken
Nov 01, 2015

This book covers lots of different concepts in math, showing real world applications and answering the question "When am I ever going to use this?". It's great at presenting complex concepts in a very simple and understandable way. It was somewhat dense in parts, but also very interesting.
I would recommend this book to anyone really interested in math.

j
Jakedesnake
Aug 19, 2015

This is the first "casual" math book I read that focuses on probability and statistics- and it's a welcome change! Jordan Ellenberg uses humour and clear explanations to present the reader with a series of real life situation and explains how they work mathematically, from winning the lottery to single transferable vote. The examples of how the average person is mathematically illiterate are so abundant that this book should be required reading for all.

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Ivan W. Taylor
Nov 06, 2014

This is a very good book but is sometimes deep in its discussion of mathematics. I enjoyed it a lot but would hesitate to recommend it to my friends unless they were mathematicians, However, as a mathematician myself I liked the book because I still learned some things which is uncommon from a book for laypeople.

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writermala
Sep 06, 2014

Prof. Jordan Ellenberg has written a book which shows the stark beauty of Mathematics. He uses examples to show that pure Math can be applied to real life situations to make complex and often paradoxical situations simple. He mentions that non-linear thinking really explains a lot of anomalies and says succinctly that "which way you should go depends on where you already are."
Some of his examples like the Baltimore Stockbroker are just fascinating. All in all an eminently readable book; however, the Math in it is a little tougher than one is led to believe:-)

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