Two Hundred Percent of Nothing

Numbers seem to be so precise, so factual, so real. Even if we don’t quite understand them (and too many of us don’t), we trust numbers—and why not, since from an early age we are reminded of their importance and told that “figures don’t lie.” Unfortunately, while the numbers themselves may remain innocent of mendacity, they can be used to lie, and lying is what A. K. Dewdney’s brief but informative book is about. It tells the reader more about the various scams, flim flams, and abuses inflicted upon us through the misuse of mathematics than the perpetrators of those schemes (advertisers, politicians, pop economists, and just plain con men) want us to know. Reason enough right there to read TWO HUNDRED PERCENT OF NOTHING, but there’s more.

For one thing, the volume is written in such an accessible fashion that the reader who knows too little of mathematics (“innumeracy” is the current word in vogue, and it’s unfortunately appropriate for too many of us) understands clearly Dewdney’s points and, even better, can translate them into practical applications. Anyone who has ever been tempted to gamble on the slots, found themselves paying exorbitant interest rates on a car badly financed, or been taken by a quick-change artist should turn to TWO HUNDRED PERCENT OF NOTHING to find out what happened, and how to keep it from happening again.

Whether it’s advertisers and marketers with their suspiciously precise polls and...

(The entire section is 405 words.)