Beyond Numeracy

Paulos proceeds from the assumption that many of the phobias which laypersons suffer concerning mathematics result from their failure to recognize how much they know inherently about the subject. He claims that people who attribute their insights to logic or common sense often have arrived at them through essentially mathematical means.

These two- to six-page essays demystify a broad variety of topics concerned with mathematics. They are consistently clear, written with a wry wit and an impressive understanding—perhaps instinctive, perhaps learned—of how people assimilate information.

Like Paulos’ earlier INNUMERACY: MATHEMATICAL LITERACY AND ITS CONSEQUENCES; I THINK, THEREFORE I LAUGH; and MATHEMATICS AND HUMOR, this book is user-friendly and enticing. It is also encouraging, showing that the higher orders of mathematics are quite different from—and often easier than—the elementary stages that have discouraged cringing mathematical cowards through the ages.

Paulos walks wary readers—mathematical skeptics—through gamelike exercises and demonstrates clearly that many sophisticated operations are easily manageable, sometimes with the help of computers, often without. Particularly good starting points for the mathematically timid are “Godel and His Theorem,” “Impossibilities—Three Old, Three New,” “Probability,” “Quantifiers in Logic,” and “Variables and Pronouns.” A chronological listing of the top forty mathematicians through the ages provides a witty overview of the subject.