Just read/glanced through another math-for-the-masses book : [The secret life of numbers](http://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Life-Numbers-Pieces-Mathematicians/dp/0309096588/sr=81/qid=1168541999/ref=sr_1_1/203-3776750-7074362?ie=UTF8&s=books) by [George G.

Szpiro](http://www.citebase.org/search?submit=1&author=Szpiro%2C+George+G.). The subtitle made me buy the book : **50 easy pieces on how

mathematicians work and think** Could be fun, I thought, certainly after

reading the Amazon-blurb :

Most of us picture

mathematicians laboring before a chalkboard, scribbling numbers and

obscure symbols as they mutter unintelligibly. This lighthearted (but

realistic) sneak-peak into the everyday world of mathematicians turns

that stereotype on its head. Most people have little idea what

mathematicians do or how they think. It’s often difficult to see how

their seemingly arcane and esoteric work applies to our own everyday

lives. But mathematics also holds a special allure for many people. We

are drawn to its inherent beauty and fascinated by its complexity – but

often intimidated by its presumed difficulty. \”The Secret Life of

Numbers\” opens our eyes to the joys of mathematics, introducing us to

the charming, often whimsical side, of the

discipline.

Please correct me when I’m wrong,

but I found just one out of 50 pieces which remotely fulfills this

promise : ‘Cozy Zurich’ ((on the awesome technical support a lecturer

in Zurich is rumoured to receive)). Still, there are some other pieces

worth reading, 1. ‘A puzzle by any other name’ ((On the

Collatz problem)) 2. ‘Twins, cousins and sexy primes’ ((How

reasearch into the twin primes problem led to the discovery of a

Pentium-bug)) 3. ‘Proving the proof’ ((On Kepler’s problem)) 4.

‘Has Poincare’s conjecture finally been solved’ ((Of course it has

been)) 5. ‘Late tribute to a tragic hero’ ((On Abel’s life and

prize)) 6. ‘God’s gift to science?’ ((Stephen Wolfram

bashing)) to single out a few, embedded in a soup made out of the

usual suspects (knots, chaos, RSA etc.). But, all in all, I fear the

book doesn’t fulfill its promises and once again it demonstrates how

little ‘math-substance’ one is able to put in a book for a general

audience. But let us end with a quote from the preface that I really

like :

Whenever a socialite shows off his flair

at a coctail party by reciting a stanza from an obscure poem, he is

considered well-read and full of wit. Not much ado can be made with the

recitation of a mathematical formula, however. At most, one may expect a

few pitying glances and the title ‘party’s most nerdy guest’. To the

concurring nods of the cocktail crowd, most bystanders will admit that

they are no good at math, never have been, and never will be.

Actually, this is quite astonishing. Imagine your lawyer

telling you that he is no good at spelling, your dentist proudly

proclaiming that she speaks n foreign language, and your financial

advisor admitting with glee that he always mixes up Voltaire with

Moliere. With ample reason one would consider such people as ignorant.

Not so with mathematics. Shortcomings in this intellectual discipline

are met with understanding by everyone.