The Best Writing on Mathematics 2021 , reviewed

The Best Writing on Mathematics 2021 by Mircea Pitici. Published by Princeton University Press September 2022 | Paperback | £20. See more about the book here.

The Best Writing on Mathematics 2021 , reviewed

While we have a deep love for maths, we would also be the first to say that some aspects of this book cover a wide range of topics that we are not expert in. That said this book does seem to do a pretty good job of aiming to reach out to the wider, more general reader. The book is not weighed down by an excess of complex equations or mathematical statements. Some of the articles are even only a few pages long and have no symbols or equations at all.

Overall this book works well, though the editor did begin with a sightly mysterious statement that seemed unresolved throughout the rest of the book, as they mentioned that this might be the last such compilation. Why so? We are left unenlightened on that one. The range of topics works well, and this could be a possible bedtime reader, one short story per night perhaps, so to speak. The article about how, overall, the mean shape of rocks under the earth tends towards cubes certainly got us thinking the next time we were digging in the garden. If a collection of mathematical essays can leave you pondering about ideas days later then it has surely worked.

There were also pieces on covid related trends, and also the mathematics of incarceration, namely how some important insights have occurred when suitably smart mathematicians have been forced to work with only their own internal resources and intelligence. We enjoyed this compilation and we hope that it won’t be the last!

See more about the book here

This annual anthology brings together the year’s finest mathematics writing from around the world—and you don’t need to be a mathematician to enjoy the pieces collected here. These essays—from leading names and fresh new voices—delve into the history, philosophy, teaching, and everyday aspects of math, offering surprising insights into its nature, meaning, and practice, and taking readers behind the scenes of today’s hottest mathematical debates.

Here, Viktor Blåsjö gives a brief history of “lockdown mathematics”; Yelda Nasifoglu decodes the politics of a seventeenth-century play in which the characters are geometric shapes; and Andrew Lewis-Pye explains the basic algorithmic rules and computational procedures behind cryptocurrencies. In other essays, Terence Tao candidly recalls the adventures and misadventures of growing up to become a leading mathematician; Natalie Wolchover shows how old math gives new clues about whether time really flows; and David Hand discusses the problem of “dark data”—information that is missing or ignored. And there is much, much more.

Mircea Pitici teaches mathematics at Syracuse University and has edited The Best Writing on Mathematics since 2010. Twitter @MPitici

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