Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity, by Steve Strogatz

I love this book. My only regret is that I couldn't read it in high school, when I was *actually* struggling with math. At this point (having degrees & math & math education & have spent over a decade teaching the subject and/or teachers of it), I read it more from the point of view of, "How could I use pieces of this with students and/or the teachers that I work with?"

In these 30 short essays--a couple of which I had read before in his Time column--Strogatz begins at the beginning (with the concept of counting) and winds his way through everything from basic algebra to calculus to advanced topics like group theory and topology, discussing each topic in a way that is not only friendly and approachable for the mathematical neophite (or phobic), but fascinating. And for all that the book is aimed at a general audience, I have to admit that I learned a few fascinating things about some topics that I didn't even learn in my advanced semester-long college classes. (Did you know there are real-world applications from infinite series? I didn't!)

So yes, this is a book about math, but it isn't just for math lovers. In fact, it's probably more for people who felt like they "never really got it" in school but are maybe just a little intrigued and kind of want another crack at it (in a way that doesn't involve doing homework). I also think it makes a GREAT resource for math teachers. (I used the two calculus essays as introductions to each semester of the course, differential & integral respectively. They give a really great, 30,000 ft overview that I thought might help the students see what it was we were really doing and why before we got bogged down in problem sets.)

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