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How the Other Half Thinks: Adventures in Mathematical Reasoning

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Math enthusiasts aren't necessarily the number-crunching geeks we tend to assume. In fact, they know that math is about much more than numbers; it is a profoundly philosophical endeavor, as well as a stimulating mental exercise. In How the Other Half Thinks, Sherman Stein emphasizes the creative element of mathematics by exploring some significant mathematical discoveries through simple, intuitive manipulations. With an ingenious technie that uses no algebra or trigonometry, and only a minimum of arithmetic, Stein takes us through the thought process behind some of math's great discoveries and applications. Each chapter begins with a simple question about strings made up of the letters a and b, which leads to other, more profound questions. Along the way, we become familiar with concepts from such fields as topology and probability, and learn how they have led to applications such as codes and radar, computing, and even baseball statistics. Recreational and instructive, How the Other Half Thinks will appeal to die-hard math enthusiasts (of which there are many) as well as those "right-brainers" who are looking for a way to understand and enjoy math.

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Some topics in advanced mathematics require nothing more than arithmetic and common sense. How the Other Half Thinks makes use of this phenomenon to offer both the mathematically adept and mathematical beginner eight fascinating illustrations of the mathematical way.

Each chapter starts with a question about strings made up of nothing more than two letters. This question in turn suggests thought-provoking problems. After these problems are explored and solved, the author shows how the related mathematics has been applied in areas as varied as computers, cell phones, measurement of astronomical distances, and cell growth.

An experienced educator, prize-winning expositor, and researcher, Stein engagingly presents each concept. The leisurely pace allows a reader to move slowly through each chapter, omitting no steps. This approach makes complex concepts like topology, set theory, and probability accessible and exciting. The book creates a bridge across the gulf between the two cultures: humanities and the sciences.

Stein shows how the mathematical style of thinking is one that everyone can use to understand the world. This charming book speaks to both those who employ the intuitive, creative right half of the brain, and to those who rely more on the analytical, numerical left half. How the Other Half Thinks is for the novice and the skilled, the poet and the scientist, the left-brained and the right-brained. When you read this book, you are immersed in the world of mathematics, not as a spectator, but as an involved participant.

"Occasionally, in some difficult musical compositions there are beautiful, but easy parts­­"so simple a beginner could play them. So it is with mathematics as well. There are some discoveries in advanced mathematics that do not depend on specialized knowledge, not even on algebra, geometry, or trigonometry. Instead they may involve, at most, a little arithmetic, such as 'the sum of two odd numbers is even,' and common sense. As I wrote, I kept in mind two types of readers: those who enjoyed mathematics until they were turned off by an unpleasant episode, usually around fifth grade; and mathematics aficionados, who will find much that is new throughout the book."
­­"Sherman Stein

About the Author:

Sherman Stein, received his Ph.D. from Columbia University. After a one-year instructorship at Princeton University, he joined the faculty at the University of California, Davis, where he taught until 1993. His main mathematical interests are in algebra, combinatorics, and pedagogy. He has been the recipient of two MAA awards; the Lester R. Ford Award for Mathematical Exposition, and the Beckenbach Book Prize for Algebra and Tiling (with Sandor Szabo). He also received The Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of California, Davis, and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Marietta College.

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