This book contains a delightful collection of short articles, several of which have appeared in various German magazines. The author is a mathematician and journalist who covers Israel and the Middle East for the Swiss daily newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung and for which he also writes a monthly column on mathematics. The author of Kepler’s Conjecture (2003), Szpiro has an MBA from Stanford and a doctorate in finance and mathematical economics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The stories collected in this Medley are aimed at general readers with an interest in mathematics and science. They are very interesting and well written but do not have the mathematical depth of articles by Martin Gardiner or Ivars Peterson. Some references to further reading and sources are included at the end (the references to Chapter 10 are out of sequence). The articles have been partitioned into the following sections:
- Math for math’s sake
- Math applied to real life
- In the air
- Training the brain
- Games, gifts, and other diversions
- Choosing and dividing
- Money, and making it
- Interdisciplinary matters
Of special interest are the articles on the Littlewood-Salem-Izumi constant, Ramanujan’s mock theta functions, Hales’s proof of Kepler’s conjecture, Green and Tao’s work on arithmetic series of prime numbers, stamp and coin problems, queues, Tao’s shoelace problem, Benford’s law, airline boarding policies, Braess’ traffic planning paradox, dyscalculia, the Whorfian hypothesis, Sudoku, the triangle-avoidance game, Nash equilibria, Talmudic division, Borda counting, the aggregate probabilities principle, Wolfram and cellular automata, a Gaussian copula function and bankruptcy, deciphering the Voynich manuscript, and the variability of fractal dimension in Jackson Pollock’s paintings.
A more precise reference for the origin of a J. J. Sylvester letter could have been included (p. 40). The most frustrating omission, however, is the lack of an index. In any case, readers will learn about many interesting recent applications of and results in mathematics as well as find out about a number of dedicated mathematicians they may have never read about before.
Jim Tattersall is Professor of Mathematics at Providence College, in Providence, RI.