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The Math of Life and Death: 7 Mathematical Principles That Shape Our Lives

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A brilliant and entertaining mathematician illuminates seven mathematical principles that shape our lives. “Kit Yates shows how our private and social lives are suffused by mathematics. Ignorance may bring tragedy or farce. This is an exquisitely interesting book. It’s a deeply serious one too and, for those like me who have little math, it’s delightfully readable.” —Ian McEw A brilliant and entertaining mathematician illuminates seven mathematical principles that shape our lives. “Kit Yates shows how our private and social lives are suffused by mathematics. Ignorance may bring tragedy or farce. This is an exquisitely interesting book. It’s a deeply serious one too and, for those like me who have little math, it’s delightfully readable.” —Ian McEwan, author of Atonement “Kit Yates is a natural storyteller. Through fascinating stories and examples, he shows how maths is the beating heart of so much of modern life. An exciting new voice in the world of science communication.” —Marcus du Sautoy, author of The Music of the Primes From birthdays to birth rates to how we perceive the passing of time, mathematical patterns shape our lives. But for those of us who left math behind in high school, the numbers and figures hurled at us as we go about our days can sometimes leave us scratching our heads and feeling as if we’re fumbling through a mathematical minefield. In this eye-opening and extraordinarily accessible book, mathemati­cian Kit Yates illuminates hidden principles that can help us understand and navigate the chaotic and often opaque surfaces of our world. In The Math of Life and Death, Yates takes us on a fascinating tour of everyday situations and grand-scale applications of mathematical concepts, including exponential growth and decay, optimization, statistics and probability, and number systems. Along the way he reveals the mathematical undersides of controversies over DNA testing, medical screening results, and historical events such as the Chernobyl disaster and the Amanda Knox trial. Readers will finish this book with an enlightened perspective on the news, the law, medicine, and history, and will be better equipped to make personal decisions and solve problems with math in mind, whether it’s choosing the shortest checkout line at the grocery store or halting the spread of a deadly disease.


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A brilliant and entertaining mathematician illuminates seven mathematical principles that shape our lives. “Kit Yates shows how our private and social lives are suffused by mathematics. Ignorance may bring tragedy or farce. This is an exquisitely interesting book. It’s a deeply serious one too and, for those like me who have little math, it’s delightfully readable.” —Ian McEw A brilliant and entertaining mathematician illuminates seven mathematical principles that shape our lives. “Kit Yates shows how our private and social lives are suffused by mathematics. Ignorance may bring tragedy or farce. This is an exquisitely interesting book. It’s a deeply serious one too and, for those like me who have little math, it’s delightfully readable.” —Ian McEwan, author of Atonement “Kit Yates is a natural storyteller. Through fascinating stories and examples, he shows how maths is the beating heart of so much of modern life. An exciting new voice in the world of science communication.” —Marcus du Sautoy, author of The Music of the Primes From birthdays to birth rates to how we perceive the passing of time, mathematical patterns shape our lives. But for those of us who left math behind in high school, the numbers and figures hurled at us as we go about our days can sometimes leave us scratching our heads and feeling as if we’re fumbling through a mathematical minefield. In this eye-opening and extraordinarily accessible book, mathemati­cian Kit Yates illuminates hidden principles that can help us understand and navigate the chaotic and often opaque surfaces of our world. In The Math of Life and Death, Yates takes us on a fascinating tour of everyday situations and grand-scale applications of mathematical concepts, including exponential growth and decay, optimization, statistics and probability, and number systems. Along the way he reveals the mathematical undersides of controversies over DNA testing, medical screening results, and historical events such as the Chernobyl disaster and the Amanda Knox trial. Readers will finish this book with an enlightened perspective on the news, the law, medicine, and history, and will be better equipped to make personal decisions and solve problems with math in mind, whether it’s choosing the shortest checkout line at the grocery store or halting the spread of a deadly disease.

49 review for The Math of Life and Death: 7 Mathematical Principles That Shape Our Lives

  1. 5 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    My problem with books on mathematics is never remembering the formulas, even from one chapter to the next. OK, and being bored with them is a factor too. Kit Yates solved these problems by not using any formulas, or even much math in his delightful (when not frightening) The Math of Life and Death. His secret is really simple: he tells stories. The result is always engaging, often infuriating and sometimes horrifying. We defy the math at our peril. Using examples from the news, such a My problem with books on mathematics is never remembering the formulas, even from one chapter to the next. OK, and being bored with them is a factor too. Kit Yates solved these problems by not using any formulas, or even much math in his delightful (when not frightening) The Math of Life and Death. His secret is really simple: he tells stories. The result is always engaging, often infuriating and sometimes horrifying. We defy the math at our peril. Using examples from the news, such as epidemics or murder investigations, Yates shows what underlies the events – the basic numbers that anyone can see do or do not add up. The whole strength of The Math of Life and Death is the power of true events. Yates recognizes their value, and provides the background facts that fit with numbers that prove a point. In the hot new service of gene sequencing, he shows clearly how our assumption about identifying people by DNA samples can go wrong – badly – enough to incarcerate the wrong person. In his own case, 23andMe gave him a death sentence through a wrong interpretation of his genes. He proved it (to his great relief) with other such services and went back to show just how the numbers can lead analysis astray. Sloppy math is hard to prove, but can ruin lives. He shows that something as unmathematical as algae needs an understanding of math. An algal bloom doubles in size every day, until it covers a lake - in 30 days. If you see the lake is half covered, how long do you think it will take for it to be covered completely? Most would calculate numerous days, based on when the algae first appeared and had reached the halfway point, but the correct answer is one more day. Mistakes like this lead planes to crash, which Yates also shows in painful detail. Doctors are forever misinterpreting test results, giving patients false death sentences or false reassurances. Yates gives the example of breast cancer tests, by which doctors seem to predict nine out of every two cases of breast cancer in women. The numbers are pretty stark. With false positives from tests, 981 women out of a random 10,000 will be told that they have breast cancer. But of those, only 90 will actually have it. Ninety out of ten thousand (ie. nine per thousand) is not the pandemic plague that should cause panicked fear in women, but that’s how doctors present it when they are surveyed. Given multiple choice questions, doctors fare far worse than if they had chosen random answers. They are prejudiced in the false direction. They have the facts and the numbers wrong. The result is needless surgery, needless chemotherapy, and much pointless suffering. There is a horrifying chapter on legal ignorance as well. So-called expert witnesses bamboozle judges, juries and opposing lawyers with mumbo-jumbo that no one challenges, because they don’t understand what was said. They just pick out a major conclusion from what they heard, and accept it as true and significant. The result is wrongful convictions. In the major case cited, a young mother went to prison for murdering her first two children, because an expert incorrectly claimed the chances of two children from the same family dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) was one in 73 million. (He made up the number himself.) That’s all the jury needed to know. It didn’t matter that the expert was wrong about the odds, or even that the children didn’t really die of SIDS. The number was so overwhelming, the decision was easy to make: she had to be guilty as charged. In upholding the conviction, the appeals court said no one would be fooled by such a wild claim. This is the same principle that guides media claims, and why so few trust the media any more. Shopping for statistics and angles, reporters hone in on some startling number, and taking it out of context, draw conclusions that it doesn’t merit, or maybe worse, just leaving it there to fester in the imagination of people with no other facts to weigh. Absent those facts, the population divides into believers and non-believers, ever more extreme in their positions. It is no wonder that a Boris Johnson can lie about the massive amounts of cash sent to the European Union, and even when the lie is pointed out, it continues to be the foundation for leaving the union. The result has been utter chaos in a farcical government. So while it’s critical to have the numbers behind the claims, few do. Worse, fewer can master them, and a select group will manipulate them to their own advantage. Yates also tackles algorithms, epidemics, and antivaxxers. The antivaxxers rely on a single, tiny, invalid and misinterpreted study by a (since) defrocked doctor, where he claimed to show that vaccinations cause autism. They don’t, as Yates relates clearly and concisely. Nonetheless, the news traveled from Britain the USA, where it has become gospel to millions who have no need of the facts. They accept the headline as all they need to know. The result is a resurgence of diseases long thought banished, with thousands suffering needlessly. Perversely, parents even mail licked lollipops to each other, so more children can be infected. They believe the false headline, and are ignorant of the death and disfiguration rates from these so-called rites of passage diseases. It is craziness squared, because the numbers were cooked and won out over the facts. The Math of Life and Death is an endlessly diverting, pleasing, engaging and horrifying look at how lives are affected by the math. It is math in very human terms, and Yates excels at making it plain. And you don’t even have to do the math to see it. David Wineberg

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    No Formulas. Just Numb3rs. In this book about how math shapes our lives, British math professor Yates doesn't take us into the algebra, geometry, and even trigonometry that we all use daily - whether we realize it or not. Instead, he takes an approach similar to the now decade old US television show Numb3rs, starring David Krumholtz and Rob Morrow, wherein he shows applications of higher level mathematics in fields such as epidemiology, medicine, law, journalism, elections, and several others. Y No Formulas. Just Numb3rs. In this book about how math shapes our lives, British math professor Yates doesn't take us into the algebra, geometry, and even trigonometry that we all use daily - whether we realize it or not. Instead, he takes an approach similar to the now decade old US television show Numb3rs, starring David Krumholtz and Rob Morrow, wherein he shows applications of higher level mathematics in fields such as epidemiology, medicine, law, journalism, elections, and several others. Yates cites real world examples including unjust convictions and Ebola outbreaks and many others to show how math was used incorrectly and what the math actually showed in that situation, to help the reader begin to get an overall sense of math without getting bogged down in the technical calculations. Truly an excellent book for even the more arithmophobic among us, as it shows the numbers all around us and explains how we can have a better sense of them. Disclaimers: 1) I LOVED Numb3rs back in the day and would still be watching it if it were still on the air. 2) I have a computer science degree and very nearly got secondary mathematics education and mathematics bachelors degrees at the same time as my CS one - so obviously I'm a bit more attuned to math than others.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Colin

    A lot of familiar mathematical ideas, but told engagingly and with plenty of wit. I especially enjoyed the final chapter on epidemiology (although I'd have liked a bit more mathematical detail, even in the form of diagrams rather than equations).

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sami

    I haven^t read it yet. it looks interesting

  5. 4 out of 5

    Susan Walker

    If your in to math and how it can effect your life this is the book for you.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Helen

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rosemary Waugh

  8. 5 out of 5

    Caelan B

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kev Willoughby

  10. 5 out of 5

    Shrikant Joshi`

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jaco Vermaak

  14. 4 out of 5

    Carol

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nanaja Büssnüss

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sandra Wolf

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

  19. 4 out of 5

    Willem

  20. 4 out of 5

    Brian Nieubuurt

  21. 4 out of 5

    Peter Rudenko

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alika

  23. 5 out of 5

    Pippin

  24. 5 out of 5

    Claudius

  25. 4 out of 5

    CaveatEmptor

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sherlock Silver

  27. 4 out of 5

    Row

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ladan Sadri

  29. 5 out of 5

    Charles Fried

  30. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

  31. 5 out of 5

    John

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    Brittney Thompson

  33. 5 out of 5

    Luke Copnell

  34. 4 out of 5

    Tracey (yellowreadingroom) Stenson Jukes

  35. 5 out of 5

    Tom

  36. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

  37. 4 out of 5

    Dominika Olszowy

  38. 5 out of 5

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  39. 5 out of 5

    EBookLover

  40. 5 out of 5

    Alan Clark

  41. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

  42. 4 out of 5

    Raluca Marcu

  43. 4 out of 5

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  44. 5 out of 5

    Dylan

  45. 4 out of 5

    Tfoster

  46. 5 out of 5

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  47. 4 out of 5

    Luke Arnott

  48. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  49. 5 out of 5

    kath wilson

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