Over the last few years there has been a rush of 'The Science of ...' books - popular science titles written to tie in with the recent release of a popular film or book. These include: The Science of The X-files, The Science of Star Wars, The Science of Superheroes, The Science of Supervillains, The Science of Discworld (volumes I, II and III), and The Science of Harry Potter. And into this fray now strides Michael Hanlon with his own offering to the genre.
The topic of this book - the Banach-Tarski Paradox - is a result so strange and counterintuitive that the author says he didn't believe it when he first saw it. The "paradox" - in fact an impeccable mathematical theorem - says that a small sphere, for example a pea, can be cut into as few as five pieces which can then be reassembled so as to make a far bigger sphere, for example the sun.
Have you ever wondered what shape a football is? No, it is not a sphere - it is far closer to something called a truncated icosahedron, also known as a "buckyball". It consists of 12 black pentagons and 20 white hexagons and is about the most effective way of creating something nearly spherical out of flat panels. Curious sporting-related mathematical facts like this can be found throughout Eastaway and Haigh's book "How to take a penalty, the hidden mathematics of sport".
Anyone who has ever tried to analyse a game mathematically knows that things can get very complicated very quickly. In a game like chess, the number of possibilities for just the first three moves is already enormous, while, in poker, the roles played by chance, strategy and psychology seem to be mysteriously interlinked.
The author of this book is Statistics Editor of the Financial Times, the only newspaper in Britain to employ someone with this job title. He is therefore uniquely well placed to write this fascinating and timely book, which sets out to provide a fact-based picture of the society we live in.
Keith Devlin is a well-known populariser of mathematics, author of many books and appearing regularly on American radio as "The Math Guy" In this latest offering he walks us through the astounding mathematical capabilities of both plants and animals, and on to the abstract abilities of humans.
This book is a curious mixture of biography, history and mathematics, all neatly packaged into an entertaining and enlightening read. In essence it is a biography of the brilliant and eccentric mathematician, John von Neumann, who began life, much like many of the other great mathematicians, by being able to do basic arithmatic before other children could speak and with an ability to calculate exceptionally well before he even went to school.
It's never easy for me to read a work of fiction based in and around a world I'm familiar with. Quite often I find that the author will make some small error of fact, perhaps about something very minor, which then stops me from enjoying the book as a whole because I begin to wonder what other facts, in areas that I know nothing about, are also incorrect.