The Joy Of X" by Steven Strogatz: Book Review

I am an avid math student. Because I started calculus this year, I figured I could finally read the advanced math books at the library and hope to understand them.

Boy was I wrong.

But only in the sense that I needed to know some calculus to appreciate books about higher level maths. I took out Steven Strogatz's book, The Joy of X. I understood it just fine. The Joy Of X, is an eye-opening read that, as Strogatz says, makes math accessible to anyone with "only curiosity and common sense."

Strogatz is a professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell, which seemed intimidating at first, but rather than his level of math mastery making his writing feel like a textbook , it instead helps him draw a better picture for the reader.

He uses analogies to describe how and why things are the way they are. A good example is the rock analogy, in which he explains that prime numbers are the only number in which to build a shape of rocks with no stray parts, you need to build a 1 by x straight line. As I read this analogy, it dawned on me that this was just the textbook definition of a prime number, nothing new at all. But the way he described it left an imprint on my mind about prime numbers.

And the beautiful, simplistic analogies don't just provide new, clever ways of thinking about the basic concepts of math; indeed, they are equally helpful at the higher levels of math, without diminishing the beautiful simplicity.

Another example of Strogatz's great teaching is his explanation of the fact that e can be represented as the value of an interest rate being compounded an infinite amount of times (when the interest rate once a year is 100%). While this is something one could learn in this Wikipedia article, the way its explained makes it all the more compelling and intriguing.

As a math student, this book helped me grasp the larger breadth of math and find new ways to visualize the world and problems I face around me. To professors of math and other people with a similar understanding of math, this book may be nothing new, nor should it be. This book is a book for the common man. Whether the reader is an adult who has forgotten their basic algebra, or an advanced high school math student like me, this book still serves to rationalize _pi,_make _i_a reality, and overall make the world of math a bit smaller.

I fully recommend this book. I am buying a copy myself (the one I read was from the library) and would strongly recommend it to nearly everybody, even (or maybe especially) those who don't like or have forgotten some of their math.

Listen to Steven giving a radio talk about this book.

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