Book review: The Math Book

The Math Book by Cliff Pickover (ISBN 1402757964) proves you can’t judge a book by its cover.

The cover has three strikes against it.

  1. The title could hardly be less interesting.
  2. The book cover substitutes a couple Greek letters for Roman letters, a gimmick I find annoying.
  3. At first glance, the dust jacket is just text on a black background.

In short, there’s nothing about this book that would make it jump out at you in a book store. That is a shame, because the book is quite interesting inside. Not only is the content well written, the images are stunning. Aside from its dull cover, it would make a great coffee table book.

The Math Book contains 250 one-page articles on milestones in the history of math. Each article is followed by a related full-page color image. The articles are short and self-contained, so the book is easy to read a few minutes at a time. It’s also fun just to thumb through enjoying the photography and computer-generated images. The book would be a good wedding gift for a mathematician marrying an artist.

The Math Book is written for a general audience; much of the book would be accessible to someone without much background in math. But it also holds a few surprises even for experienced mathematicians.

Update: See Interview with Cliff Pickover

2 thoughts on “Book review: The Math Book

  1. Now that you mention it, all of Pickover’s books seem to have ugly covers. I wonder why that is.

    I hate to see Greek letters used this way too. I will say that at least in the title of this book, the beta is used for a b and the alpha for an a. The one that grates on me is when you see GREEK written GR∑∑K (as I believe it was in the publicity for My Big Fat Greek Wedding). It looks like GRISSK to me.

  2. Cliff is a prolific author, and I am pretty sure he did not design the dust jacket of this book. We have lunch occasionally, and he’s one of the nicest, most curious guys you can meet at IBM Research.

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