We’re just about to enter February, and if you’re following along with the STEM reading challenge, you’ll know what that means. Finding a book on maths …. that you actually might read …. or understand …. or finish….
But there are plenty of fun and popular maths books out there and if you head down to the library math section, you might discover that some mathy people are quite humorous. And this author, Eddie Woo, with his new mathematics book, Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths, is no exception.
He’s a high-school maths teacher, yet didn’t enjoy mathematics in his own high school years, and then hit headlines as the 2018 Australian local hero. And he’s got a popular youtube channel of filmed maths classes and then decided to write a book about maths. If that doesn’t intrigue you, I’m not quite sure what will! (As an aside, if you’re interested in hearing more about him and what led him to mathematics, he explores this more in his TEDx talk on YouTube)
It is a book about maths, but it’s not full of nasty, complicated algebraic equations. Instead, Woo takes an interesting approach, viewing mathematics as our ‘pattern sense’, just like sight, hearing, smell and taste. So the book is written about different patterns and cool phenomena that mathematics describes.
The chapter titles: “killer butterflies”, “what sunflowers know about the universe” or “what do you call a comedian tying their shoelaces?” certainly grab your attention … and don’t really sound like they belong in a mathematics book.
This whole book is an adventure through how we hear different musical notes, the “infinitely long” coast of Australia, a bit of geometry- but it’s in the exciting context of lightning bolts and networks of blood vessels, word searches, why your phone dies unexpectedly when it claimed it had battery left. And then this cool quote:
“Right now, your cells are tying and untying knots to keep you alive. Your continued existence depends on knot theory” (p121, emphasis original)
Length: 352 pages, but large-font so it’s not super long. It took me a couple hours to read through from cover-to-cover without breaks.
Design: Definite red/white theme running through the whole book. As you can see in the cover picture above, many of the pages have red designs and boxes along the edges and solid-red colour pages for new chapters or interesting asides. It is quite a bit of colour and busy design at first that can be distracting, but it is also used to highlight interesting facts, extensions and diagrams.
Readability: Very high. It’s large-font with fairly short chapters that are an easy length to sit down and read. And there are lots of pictures! Every time that Woo introduces a concept, he includes a helpful picture or diagram (or several) to help you clarify or visualise some aspect of what he’s talking about.
Firstly, it’s extremely well-written, which makes it a very enjoyable read that is easy to understand even if you don’t consider yourself a “maths person” (note that Woo addresses so-called category in the introduction).
The shorter chapter lengths and readability are such that a range of ages would enjoy it. Probably readers from early/middle high school onwards would find it interesting. But that’s certainly not to say that others wouldn’t enjoy it. I would recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in science or mathematics and I will definitely be re-reading my copy (and chasing all those wonderful benefits of reading!).