Episodes
There is no shortage of books on the growing impact of data collection and analysis on our societies, our cultures, and our everyday lives. David Hand's new book Dark Data: Why What You Don't Know Matters (Princeton University Press, 2020) is unique in this genre for its focus on those data that aren't collected or don't get analyzed. More than an introduction to missingness and how to account for it, this book proposes that the whole of data analysis can benefit from a "dark data"...
Published 07/08/24
A probing examination of the dynamic history of predictive methods and values in science and engineering that helps us better understand today's cultures of prediction. The ability to make reliable predictions based on robust and replicable methods is a defining feature of the scientific endeavor, allowing engineers to determine whether a building will stand up or where a cannonball will strike. Cultures of Prediction: How Engineering and Science Evolve with Mathematical Tools (MIT Press,...
Published 06/24/24
Published 06/24/24
How does a delivery driver distribute hundreds of packages in a single working day? Why does remote Alaska have such a large airport? Where should we look for elusive serial killers? The answers lie in the crucial connection between maps and maths. In Mapmatics: How We Navigate the World Through Numbers (Pan Macmillan, 2024), Dr Paulina Rowinska embarks on a fascinating journey to discover the mathematical foundations of cartography and cartographical influences on mathematics. From a...
Published 06/19/24
David S. Richeson's book Tales of Impossibility: The 2000-Year Quest to Solve the Mathematical Problems of Antiquity (Princeton University Press, 2019) is the fascinating story of the 2000 year quest to solve four of the most perplexing problems of antiquity: squaring the circle, duplicating the cube, trisecting the angle, and constructing regular polygons. The eventual conclusion was that all four of these problems could not be solved under the conditions laid out millennia ago. But it's...
Published 05/28/24
Graduate students in many programs besides mathematics will need to be familiar with the methods and results of a variety of mathematical topics. Just as importantly, these students will need to develop a level of mathematical maturity—how to think in broad strokes about the subject, how to study it, and even how to communicate their work. The gap between undergraduate training and graduate requirements can also give rise to misconceptions about how mathematics is done and what needs drive...
Published 05/10/24
The stereotype of the solitary mathematician is widespread, but practicing users and producers of mathematics know well that our work depends heavily on our historical and contemporary fellow travelers. Yet we may not appreciate how our work also extends beyond us into our physical and societal environments. Kevin Lambert takes what might be a first crack at this perspective in his book Symbols and Things: Material Mathematics in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (University of...
Published 04/15/24
What's the best way to determine what most voters want when multiple candidates are running? What's the fairest way to allocate legislative seats to different constituencies? What's the least distorted way to draw voting districts? Not the way we do things now. Democracy is mathematical to its very foundations. Yet most of the methods in use are a historical grab bag of the shortsighted, the cynical, the innumerate, and the outright discriminatory. Making Democracy Count: How Mathematics...
Published 02/01/24
Bookshop.org is an online book retailer that donates more than 80% of its profits to independent bookstores. Launched in 2020, Bookshop.org has already raised more than $27,000,000. In this interview, Andy Hunter, founder and CEO discusses his journey to creating one of the most revolutionary new organizations in the book world. Bookshop has found a way to retain the convenience of online book shopping while also supporting independent bookstores that are the backbones of many local...
Published 09/12/23
Barbara M. Sattler's book The Concept of Motion in Ancient Greek Thought: Foundations in Logic, Method, and Mathematics (Cambridge UP, 2020) examines the birth of the scientific understanding of motion. It investigates which logical tools and methodological principles had to be in place to give a consistent account of motion, and which mathematical notions were introduced to gain control over conceptual problems of motion. It shows how the idea of motion raised two fundamental problems in the...
Published 08/28/23
A defining feature of nineteenth-century Britain was its fascination with statistics. The processes that made Victorian society, including the growth of population, the development of industry and commerce, and the increasing competence of the state, generated profuse numerical data.  Victorians and Numbers: Statistics and Society in Nineteenth Century Britain (Oxford UP, 2022) is a study of how such data influenced every aspect of Victorian culture and thought, from the methods of natural...
Published 08/25/23
One of the questions I am often asked is exactly what do mathematicians do. The short answer is that they look at different mathematical structures, try to deduce their properties, and think about how they might apply to the real world. Math Without Numbers (Dutton, 2020) does a wonderful job of explaining what mathematical structures are, and does so in a fashion that even readers who are uncomfortable with the process of doing mathematics can appreciate and enjoy. There are courses in music...
Published 08/17/23
Many books explain what is known about the universe. This book investigates what cannot be known. Rather than exploring the amazing facts that science, mathematics, and reason have revealed to us, this work studies what science, mathematics, and reason tell us cannot be revealed. In The Outer Limits of Reason, Noson Yanofsky considers what cannot be predicted, described, or known, and what will never be understood. He discusses the limitations of computers, physics, logic, and our own thought...
Published 07/31/23
Why are girls discouraged from doing science? Why do so many promising women leave science in early and mid-career? Why do women not prosper in the scientific workforce? Not Just for the Boys: Why We Need More Women in Science (Oxford UP, 2023) looks back at how society has historically excluded women from the scientific sphere and discourse, what progress has been made, and how more is still needed. Athene Donald, herself a distinguished physicist, explores societal expectations during both...
Published 06/07/23
The Price is Right is television's longest-running game show. Since its inception in 1956, contestants have won cars, tropical vacations, diamond jewelry, even a live horse, and the hosts' excited catchphrase "come on down!" has become part of our everyday vernacular. Part of the program's enduring appeal is the apparent ease of the game, guessing the cash value of certain prizes. But, if that's the case, then why do so many contestants come away from the show empty-handed? Solving The Price...
Published 04/19/23
African-Americans and women are increasingly visible in professional mathematical institutions, organizations, and literature, expanding our mental models of the mathematics community. Yet early representation also matters: We begin building these models as soon as we begin seeing and doing mathematics, and they can be slow to adapt. In her wonderful activity book Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians (MAA Press, 2019), Dr. Shelly Jones invites children, and their...
Published 04/16/23
On this episode of the MIT Press podcast, Thomas Lin, Editor-in-Chief of Quanta Magazine, discusses the research and current climate behind the science and math in Alice and Bob Meet the Wall of Fire: The Biggest Ideas in Science from Quanta and The Prime Number Conspiracy: The Biggest Ideas in Math from Quanta.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices Support our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm/mathematics
Published 04/15/23
Jeffrey Carpenter and Andrea Robbett's book Game Theory and Behavior (MIT Press, 2022) is an introduction to game theory that offers not only theoretical tools but also the intuition and behavioral insights to apply these tools to real-world situations. This introductory text on game theory provides students with both the theoretical tools to analyze situations through the logic of game theory and the intuition and behavioral insights to apply these tools to real-world situations. It is...
Published 01/14/23
Seduction is not just an end result, but a process -- and in mathematics, both the end results and the process by which those end results are achieved are often charming and elegant.This helps to explain why so many people -- not just those for whom math plays a key role in their day-to-day lives -- have found mathematics so seductive. Math is unique among all subjects in that it contains end results of amazing insight and power, and lines of reasoning that are clever, charming, and elegant....
Published 12/19/22
Innumeracy, by John Allen Paulos, was first published in 1988. In it the author brilliantly highlighted many of the sorry truths those of us who teach math and science know – not only can’t most people do algebra or geometry, they can’t estimate size, they don’t understand simple probability and statistics, and they believe in things that make no sense. In Who’s Counting? (Prometheus, 2022), Paulos investigates topics which – like Innumeracy – connect with the age in which we live. Who's...
Published 12/18/22
Alfred S. Posamentier's The Secret Lives of Numbers: Numerals and Their Peculiarities in Mathematics and Beyond (Prometheus Books, 2022) is the first book I’ve ever seen written by a mathematician that will absolutely, definitely, certainly appeal to people who love numbers and who don’t love mathematics. I would urge all listeners to tell everyone they know who has a fascination with numbers to listen to this podcast, especially if they don’t love mathematics because they will definitely...
Published 11/23/22
In this episode of High Theory, Justin Joque talks with Júlia Irion Martins about Probability. This conversation is part of our High Theory in STEM series, which tackles topics in science, technology, engineering, and medicine from a highly theoretical perspective. If you want to learn more about the philosophical, technical, and economic implications of probability, check out Justin’s new book, Revolutionary Mathematics: Artificial Intelligence, Statistics, and the Logic of...
Published 11/22/22
I’ve never read a book like Mathematical Tools for Real-World Applications: A Gentle Introduction for Students and Practitioners (MIT Press, 2022) – it’s a book about how engineers and scientists see math, and I found it fascinating. What intrigued me about this book was not that it just presents and solves a bunch of interesting problems, it shows how scientists and engineers differ in their approach to problem solving from mathematicians. Shame on me, but as a mathematician, I’ve always...
Published 11/11/22
Performing Math: A History of Communication and Anxiety in the American Mathematics Classroom (Rutgers University Press, 2020) by Dr. Andrew Fiss tells the history of expectations for math communication—and the conversations about math hatred and math anxiety that occurred in response. Focusing on nineteenth-century American colleges, this book analyzes foundational tools and techniques of math communication: the textbooks that supported reading aloud, the burnings that mimicked pedagogical...
Published 11/09/22
Freeman Dyson (1923–2020)—renowned scientist, visionary, and iconoclast—helped invent modern physics. Not bound by disciplinary divisions, he went on to explore foundational topics in mathematics, astrophysics, and the origin of life. General readers were introduced to Dyson’s roving mind and heterodox approach in his 1979 book Disturbing the Universe, a poignant autobiographical reflection on life and science.  "Well, Doc, You're In": Freeman Dyson’s Journey through the Universe (MIT Press,...
Published 11/02/22