The Best Writing on Mathematics 2014

This is the fifth anthology of math related papers in this series of Best Writing on Mathematics. For the review of three previous volumes in this EMS database see 2011, 2012 and 2013

The harvest this time consists of 25 papers. The subjects are again very diverse, always about mathematics, but not necessarily just mathematical results. Some examples of what questions were discussed in the contributions: Will the massive digital information available today (big data) change the way we look at the world? Is it true that logarithmic scaling is natural for our senses to perceive the environment? How to knit a Klein bottle cap or scarf? One of the topics that is well represented by several of the contributions is (math) education. For example does gaming influence math education? Should we introduce more engineering applications in our math teaching? Is it more important to do things rather than think or reason about it? Can fruit that is brought to the classroom be an incentive to learn (mathematics)? Etc. Some recreational and true mathematical subjects are represented by the solution of a puzzle formulated by John Conway, and Conway himself showing that some statements can not be proved mathematically. Can we teach generic proofs for building blocks of more complex proofs? Many proofs can lead to the same result by different approaches, for example proofs to show that √2 is irrational. How can mathematics help to assign room mates or match couples in stable marriage? Can statistics be used to analyze or create art? What is the shape of our universe? How about the dichotomy between the continuity of real numbers and the finite, hence discrete, computations in our models for real phenomena? This is just an enumeration of randomly selected samples because there is so much more to read in this book.

Unlike the previous volumes, where someone (some "big shot") was invited to write an introduction and give a discussion of the content (these went well beyond some sympathizing phrases), this time there is an introduction by the editor M. Pitici himself. That does not only include a survey of the contributions, but it also mentions a list of books, that have some affiliation with the kind of papers that were included here. That results in a bibliography of 79 books published mostly in 2013 (with few exceptions from 2012). And that is just a selection. It is a fact that there is a growing interest in popular science books, and several professional mathematicians and science communicators, sooner or later come up with such a volume. Sometimes it is the result of a derailed interest for a subject and written during the free time, while others are actually making a living out of it. Thus if you are looking for some more substantial material to read, there are a lot of suggestions here. Pitici ends his introduction as usual with some references to online material. Websites which colorful math images, with blueprints to construct 3D objects, origami algorithms, mathematics and art, etc. More interesting papers that did not make it into this volume are given as an (uncommented) bibliography at the end of the book.

So all in all, if your are not (but of course also if you are) a professional mathematician, but you are for example a journalist, a politician, or if you are interested in education (of mathematics), these volumes carefully assembled each year, keep you informed about what is happening in the margin of mathematical research. You do not have to be afraid that it will be too technical, there is indeed hardly any "hard" mathematics involved. If you are (as a mathematician) interested in new results or breakthroughs in mathematics that do not belong to your own backyard, then perhaps, this will not be the kind of collection you are looking for.

Adhemar Bultheel
Book details

This is the fifth book in the successful series of The Best Writing on Mathematics. As before, M. Pitici collected a number of generally accessible math related (i.e., not necessarily mathematical) papers that were published in 2013, and that are reprinted in this volume.

Author:  Publisher: 
9780691164175 (pbk)
£16.95 (pbk)