4 out of 5 stars
Our brains are not wired specifically for counting. Until we are taught otherwise, the untrained maths brain will only notice up to three things, before considering any above that is just more. Instead, we have a deeply ingrained culture that tells us that maths is important and that it matters. But we all have our limits, for some, it is the GCSE, but others go on to much higher levels.
Brooks begins with arithmetic, the simplest form of maths. As a species, we have been counting for around 20,000 years and even now we can see differences in cultures in the way that people use their fingers to count. He touches on fractions and negative numbers before we arrive at geometry. For some this may bring back the horror’s of a Pi you can’t eat, but it is more straightforward than algebra where we are reminded of that moment in maths when they add the complexity of letters to maths. Who remembers the quadratic formula?
For me though, the point when my brain juddered a little was calculus. I still understand it in principle, but it has been sooooo very long since I did it and rusty is an understatement… His chapter on logarithms seems easy by comparison and for some reason, imaginary numbers for me were relatively straightforward to master. As the saying goes, there are lies, dam lies and statistics and those that have a mastery of these slippery numbers can often hold the upper edge on those that can’t.
As maths books go, this is a pretty good one. Brooks tells us about the history behind each particular subject and some of the key people who have been instrumental in making our modern world a mathematical one. It is very readable, and only occasionally veers into the realm of the formula. Should that bring back nightmares from school then that can be skipped if necessary. If the thought of maths doesn’t terrify you too much, then this is a good place to start.