Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Weekly Reccomendations, Week 7: The Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouellette

I’ve been math-phobic for as long as I can remember, but something about being a graduate student made me decide that I needed to get over it, so I picked up a copy of Jennifer Ouellette’s book, The Calculus Diaries, determined to teach myself a little calculus. It took me several months to read it, but that's definitely not because it was dry and challenging - in fact, it was just the opposite. Now that I have finally gotten through it, I've decided to make it this week’s Weekly Recommendation, because I’m certain that you will find this book as enjoyable as I did, if not more so. In her book, Jennifer takes readers on a journey through a period of time where she began to apply what she was learning about calculus to a variety of events in her daily life, including a trip to Vegas, the purchase of a new house, a Disneyland vacation, visiting the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and a surfing excursion in Hawaii. It was amazing to me to realize just how much calculus (and math in general) can be applied to everyday life, and while I really didn’t learn much about how to do calculus (which isn’t the point of the book, really) I was inspired to make a greater effort to understand it and its importance in the world. If nothing else, at least I got some great history lessons concerning the development of calculus since much of Jennifer’s book consists of profiles of famous mathematicians and anecdotes in their lives that led to the development of certain components of calculus. If none of what I have said so far has convinced you to pick up this book, then perhaps the fact that Jennifer spends a pretty good chunk of the book discussing the zombie apocalypse will at least pique your interest enough to consider it. The zombie discussion was my favorite part of the book and totally worth the read. Jennifer is a fellow (former?) math-phobe and an excellent writer, and regardless of how you feel about numbers, calculations, formulas, equations, and other such nonsense, she will definitely entertain you while simultaneously educating you. What more do you want?

For more Jennifer Ouellete, check out Cocktail Party Physics, a blog that she maintains for Scientific American.

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