Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz: Making Light of Weighty Ideas

09/10/05

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Sept. 9, 2005- "Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz: Making Light of Weighty Ideas" by mathematicians Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird is "irreverent, entertaining, readable," and a completely understandable explanation of weighty ideas. The authors are unequivocal that the book requires no math background.

"As if they were comedy-club stand-ups, Burger and Starbird employ puns and silly scenarios to tickle those who wouldn't ordinarily pick up a math book," wrote Booklist. "Burger and Starbird don't bludgeon readers with number theory, geometry, or topology; they take up origami or spin a yarn about a tsetse fly."

From spirals on a pineapple to aesthetic forms in nature, art, and music; from the edge of a twisted strip of paper to the shape of the universe; from surprising coincidences such as the Kennedy and Lincoln assassinations to the notion of probability, the book uses a few simple steps of imagining to make the explanation of lofty ideas understandable.

Each chapter of "Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz" begins by setting out a counter-intuitive surprise, and continues to explain how such a fact can be and to explore its broader implications. The moral of the story is that surprises arenÕt all that surprising, and that thinking mathematically will cause us to become more attuned to the world around us, an exciting, fascinating, intriguing place where things are often not as they appear.

Many of the resulting ideas have immediate practical applications: in the course of learning to analyze statistics, the reader sees why universal HIV testing, even with super-accurate tests, might not be such a good idea; by studying number theory, youÕll learn the technique of public-key cryptography that allows sensitive information to be transmitted securely over the Internet; and a sound understanding of topology, the geometry of surfaces, enables you to remove your pants and put them back on with your ankles tied together all the while!

Burger believes mathematicians are explorers. "We're also artists," he says, "letting our imagination and creativity lead us through a world bound by the constraints of truth." He is especially dedicated to making mathematics accessible to everyone because math "allows us to see every aspect of our world in a clearer, more focused manner."

Popular campus lecturers, Burger and Starbird have won numerous teaching awards. Burger, chair of the department of mathematics and statistics at Williams College, received his B.A. from Connecticut College in 1985 and his Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin in 1990. He did his postdoctoral work at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Starbird is professor of mathematics and a university distinguished teaching professor at The University of Texas at Austin. He received his B.A. from Pomona College and his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin.

Book talks and signings are scheduled for:

New York City: Tuesday, Sept. 13, at 7:30 p.m. Barnes & Noble, 2289 Broadway at 82nd Street (212) 362-8835

Cambridge, Mass: Monday, Sept. 26, at 6:30 p.m. Harvard Bookstore, 1256 Massachusetts Avenue (617) 661-1248

Washington, D.C.: Wednesday, Oct. 5, at 6:30 p.m. Smithsonian Associates, 1100 Jefferson Drive (202) 786-9022

Portland, Ore.: Friday, Oct. 14, at 7:30 p.m. Powells Technical Bookstore, 33 NW Park Avenue, (503) 228-0540 ext 5482

Albany, N.Y.: Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 4 p.m. New York State Writers Institute, University of Albany, (518) 442-5620

Amherst, Mass.: Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 8 p.m. Amherst Books, 8 Main Street. (413) 256-1547

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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