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Weird Math: A Teenage Genius and His Teacher Reveal the Strange Connections Between Math and Everyday Life

David Darling and Agnijo Banerjee
Basic Books
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Tom Schulte
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A quarter century ago, writers such as Martin Gardner and Clifford A. Pickover so excited my interest in the mathematical – especially the speculatively mathematical – that their works fueled me though undergraduate and graduate studies. I am pleased to see these two authors continue in the tradition of telegraphing excitement to lay readers and embracing deviations from the norm: “A teenage genius and his teacher take readers on a wild ride to the extremes of mathematics.” Pickover himself assures us that

Darling and Banerjee take us on a captivating ride through a vast landscape of mathematics, touching on mesmerizing topics that include randomness, higher dimensions, alien music, chess, chaos, prime numbers, cicadas, infinity, and more.

Nearly three decades later, I still find no disagreement with Dr. Pickover.

Just about completely free of equations and formulas, this work requires only curiosity and no mathematical sophistication and provides enjoyment and enlightenment. It could just as have been titled Weird Ideas, as the topic-specific chapters expound on the motivation for these explorations and the implications of discoveries in prose that is more conversational than technical. The paradoxes, jarring concepts, and surprising insights enlighten the reader on recent and historical consideration of God (through Gödel's ontological proof), chance, and infinity; often blended.

The chapters on probability, music, infinity including the infinite ordinals, and topology are all so well done as to have standalone value for classroom capsules and introduction to those topics. And most of all, for students yearning to leave the bounds of a textbook.

Tom Schulte recently moved from Michigan to Louisiana where he hopes to find opportunities to continue as a mathematics instructor.

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