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.
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.
"Tribute to a Mathemagician" is the third book in a series of publications based on the Gathering for Gardner meetings, a regular gathering of enthusiasts who share Martin Gardner's interests in mathematics, magic and puzzle creation. Martin Gardner, the father of recreational mathematics, has influenced readers all over the world with his "Mathematical Games" column in Scientific American, which ran for 25 years.
This charming book is in its second edition (the first was published in 1994). It is about integers, with a short section for each number between 1 and 200, and a line for each between 201 and 999. There are "boxes" for interesting facts and definitions, such as "perfect number", and a few "large numbers" also make the cut, including 1729, the subject of a famous anecdote about Hardy and Ramanujan, and 101000, the googol.
Measurement is a tricky business, and rarely leaves the thing measured unchanged, as Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle states at the quantum level. But statistician David Hand has gone back to the foundations, examining measurement right across the various disciplines: psychology, medicine, physical sciences, economics, the social sciences and elsewhere. He must treat in a unified manner scales used to measure phenomena as different as pain, retail prices and magnetism.
Most of us could not work without a computer, or have a good time without a CD player, and yet we know very little about the way computers work or the quantum mechanical principles behind lasers. These two subjects involve complex concepts and it is not easy to explain them in a brief book. Nevertheless, "A shortcut through time" manages to present a clear and enjoyable crash course on quantum computers, a science which lies at the intersection between quantum mechanics, computer science and mathematics.
It feels like we've always known that the universe began with a Big Bang, and like the Big Bang could never have been called anything else. But this is far from the truth, as Simon Singh explains in this overview of the state of human knowledge about the beginning of everything (or, as Calvin of "Calvin and Hobbes" preferred to call it, the Great Kablooie).