the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

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For a while I was writing short reviews of books I'd read. Then I stopped reading as much for various reasons, and I stopped writing about the reduced reading I was doing. I won't dig up draft reviews from 3 years ago, since then suffice it to say that I've not read a lot, but did get through the Harry Potter books in 2009/2010 and a few others on the side and a boat load of probability textbooks.

Nonetheless, here goes, again.

The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics and Physics, by Steven E. Landsburg

The title + subtitle says it all, really. Landsburg is a mathematician-turned-economist and the best way to describe the book is that he pokes human nature with a stick. And then pokes and pokes and pokes and pokes it again. At some point he says something along the lines of 'people are generally irrational, inconsistent and wrong about things, but that's usually not a problem because being wrong doesn't cost us much.' He meanders through various topics (too many to go into here), but it's neither preachy, nor polemic, yet uncompromisingly rational.

The Code Book, by Simon Singh

A history of cryptography, with fairly accessible introduction to many of the concepts. Not as engrossing as Fermat's Last Theorem (see next), and probably flat-out boring for most people. I didn't enjoy the ending: it devolves into a discussion about the issues and ethics surrounding unbreakable cryptography. Just not as engrossing as the rest of the book, which is a nonetheless a good read.

Fermat's Last Theorem, by Simon Singh

You can watch the original BBC documentary of the same name on YouTube, but the companion book just fleshes it all out (and includes much, much more on the history). What history is that? A long time ago a brilliant mathematician scribbles down a fairly simple theorem in the margins of a book and writes 'I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain.' The note is discovered after his death, and for centuries, a proof eludes the world's best mathematicians. Eventually a soft-spoken mathematician fulfils a childhood dream and finds a proof, after devoting seven years of his life to the task, working in secret. The story leaves you humbled, and Singh's telling of it is engaging and sensitive. Excellent book.

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution, by Nick Lane

Biology isn't my strong point. The book was interesting but there was plenty I didn't understand. What I enjoyed most about the book was just how miraculous and wonderful our very existence and evolution has been. What I enjoyed least was that the subject matter provides a constant and uncomfortable reminder of just how frail and flimsy and breakable we are, as organisms.

{2011.07.18 - 22:20}


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