Just when readers of popular mathematics thought that maths couldn’t get any weirder, it most emphatically does in the form of ‘Weirder Maths: At the Edge of the Possible’ (OneWorld, £12.99, ISBN 9781786075086), the sequel to – you’ve guessed it – ‘Weird Maths’ by University of Manchester professor David Darling and Cambridge-based mathematical wunderkind Agnijo Banerjee.
Their latest offering is a romp through what the uninitiated might think of as boring, but what engineers know to be the most fascinating subject under the Sun. Bewildering at times? Yes. Perplexing? Sure. But, as the authors say in their introduction, “anyone can grasp maths if it’s framed in the right language”. Explaining unusual, interesting and important ideas in jargon-free words is the whole point of the exercise, and it succeeds, as did its predecessor, with flying colours bordering on consummate ease. Of course, not everything in ‘Weirder Maths’ will be wacky or even new to the engineering mind. But, as the book unfolds there’s something very satisfying in realising that you still know the difference between a labyrinth and a maze (even if you’ve forgotten the mathematical principles behind either or both). Euler’s approach to solving the Bridges of Konigsberg conundrum might well be one of our time-honoured favourites, but it’s something of a revelation to be taken through just how influential the 18th century Swiss theoretician’s ideas still are today. We may feel comfortable with what the authors rather grandly (and wisely) call the ‘seven numbers that rule the universe’, but we can’t help admiring the fact that in the process of explaining them they manage to reference both Dr Seuss and 'The Big Bang Theory'’s Sheldon Cooper on the same page. We may think we know all there is to know about zero, but as Oscar Wilde said, nothing is “the only thing I know anything about”. So you get the picture: maths is fun. What is so gripping about this compelling book is the enthusiasm the authors obviously have for their subject. After treating us to a few old favourites they really get their creative juices flowing when entering the field of imaginary numbers. This might be the point where the lay reader would be unable to resist the temptation to snap shut other books. But with ‘Weirder Maths’ we’re actually left seeing the point of such beautiful abstractions. After all, if maths were only the day-to-day piling up of positive integers we’d never get much farther mathematically than counting apples in a fruit bowl. But, say the authors, the way in which we have evolved socially, industrially and culturally means that if we didn’t have this deeper knowledge, we’d have to invent it. Could maths have evolved differently in a different time and space, they ask. The answer is that it already has. Or maybe it hasn’t, depending on your point of view. Wonderful stuff. Already awaiting ‘Even Weirder Maths’. engineering and technology in society education reviews books mathematics education Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered direct to your inbox every day. Related stories Distant black-hole-orbiting star confirms key test of Einstein’s theory of relativity Comment View from India: Prepare for the future with cutting-edge skills Development Engineer Culham, Oxfordshire £33,441 to £50,936 (inclusive of MPP) + excellent benefits including outstanding pension scheme Systems Engineer Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire Review Hands-on review: Honor 20 smartphone Oakland becomes third US city to ban use of facial recognition The whole story of exploration: part three, digital earth and beyond The whole story of exploration: part two, age of instruments The whole story of exploration: part one, brave new world Green Cross Code gets 21st-century makeover with AR app Review Review: Orbi Voice mesh network with smart speaker Recent articles BT installs 5G network in rural Wales to demonstrate driverless pod capabilities Comment Galaxy Fold fix, Boris Johnson’s tech pledge and more: best of the week’s news Distant black-hole-orbiting star confirms key test of Einstein’s theory of relativity High-performance flow batteries could enable grid-level green energy storage Low-carbon electricity production reaches record high in the UK Generic mobile phone chargers pose serious risk of burns and electrocution Comment View from Brussels: Eyes in our stars Conspiracy theorists hijack engineering terms to spread deceit on YouTube Samsung fixes Galaxy Fold display issues ahead of September launch Exclusive Analysis: How the heatwave connects to poor air quality ‘GP at Hand’ threatens destabilisation of NHS, health expert warns