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L. A. Math: Romance, Crime, and Mathematics in the City of Angels

James D. Stein
Publisher: 
Princeton University Press
Publication Date: 
2016
Number of Pages: 
240
Format: 
Hardcover
Price: 
24.95
ISBN: 
9780691168289
Category: 
General
[Reviewed by
Mindy Capaldi
, on
04/27/2016
]

L. A. Math is set in the City of Angels, Los Angeles. The name does not simply derive from that fact, however. This relatively light mathematical book is written for a Liberal Arts (L.A.) reader. Over half of the book tells quirky short stories with mathematically oriented lessons, from percentages and averages to statistics and game theory. The latter part of the book includes mathematical lessons, with numerous examples. I appreciated this layout. If you get caught up in the story, then you won’t get bogged down with the math. The author instead leaves it to the reader to turn to the appendices to see additional, technical explanations.

This book is well-designed for a wide audience. The writing style is amusing. As a somewhat macabre example, a dead body is described as having “a pool of blood large enough to satisfy a school of piranhas and an indentation in her head that had ‘blunt instrument’ written all over it” (p. 53). The author also does not assume much in the way of mathematical background, so even basic topics are explained in the appendices. The material covered in this book is the mathematics that many people wish they had learned. I especially valued the appendix on compounded interest, which was written clearly and treats a subject germane to all.

Although I overall have positive things to say about L. A. Math, there are a few minor negatives. In the first chapter, the mathematics example in the story is not explicitly connected to the appendix explanation. I wished that this chapter, which must set the stage for the rest of the book, followed the later trend of including a magnifying glass and note directing the reader to a follow-up lesson in the appendix. Chapter 9, “The Winning Streak,” leads the reader through the world of odds, probability, and gambling. Unfortunately, the math solution given in the story is said to be incorrect once one turns to the corresponding section in Appendix 9. Since the author gives the reader permission to avoid the appendices and simply read the short stories, it would be better if an appropriate solution were given in both places.

Even if you already know a lot about math and statistics, you can still enjoy the fun applications of what are often very dry subjects. Many of these topics are covered in the Finite Mathematics course that I teach, which is usually populated by students who are not huge fans of math. L. A. Math gave me fresh ideas for motivating that material. I think that students who are new to these mathematical ideas, as well as old veteran college professors, could gain something from reading the book.


Mindy Capaldi (mindy.capaldi@valpo.edu) is an assistant professor at Valparaiso University. Her current research area is mathematics education, but she studied History and English as a undergraduate and Topology as a graduate student. She is a fan of reading fiction and doing math, and spends much of her time on these two activities.

PREFACE: L.A. Math ix
MATHEMATICAL TOPICS BY CHAPTER xv

CHAPTER 1. A Change of Scene 1
CHAPTER 2. The Case of the Vanishing Greenbacks 11
CHAPTER 3. A Matter of Time 21
CHAPTER 4. The Worst Forty Days since the Flood 31
CHAPTER 5. The Accidental Guest 40
CHAPTER 6. Message from a Corpse 50
CHAPTER 7. Animal Passions 60
CHAPTER 8. Nothing to Crow About 69
CHAPTER 9. The Winning Streak 78
CHAPTER 10. One Long Season 88
CHAPTER 11. The Great Basketball Fix 97
CHAPTER 12. It's All in the Game 106
CHAPTER 13. Division of Labor 115
CHAPTER 14. The Quarterback Controversy 123

APPENDIXES: Continuing the Investigations
1. Mathematical Logic in "A Change of Scene" 137
2. Percentages in "The Case of the Vanishing Greenbacks" 143
3. Averages and Rates in "A Matter of Time" 148
4. Sequences and Arithmetic Progressions in "The Worst Forty Days since the Flood" 153
5. Algebra, the Language of Quantitative Relationships, in "The Accidental Guest" 161
6. Mathematics of Finance in "Message from a Corpse" 166
7. Set Theory in "Animal Passions" 175
8. The Chinese Restaurant Principle: Combinatorics in "Nothing to Crow About" 184
9. Probability and Expectation in "The Winning Streak" 189
10. Conditional Probability in "One Long Season" 198
11. Statistics in "The Great Basketball Fix" 202
12. Game Theory in "It's All in the Game" 213
13. Elections in "Division of Labor" 219
14. Algorithms, Efficiency, and Complexity in "The Quarterback Controversy" 225
An Introduction to Sports Betting 231

Notes 235
Index 239

Dummy View - NOT TO BE DELETED