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Boston Skeptics’ Book Club #14: The Calculus Diaries

Posted on : Feb-06-2011 | By : Mary | In : Book Club

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Note: There is a surprising dearth of pictures involving math and Star Trek.

At our last gathering, we met up to discuss The Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouellette (who blogs at Cocktail Party Physics). This book is aimed at people who don’t necessarily understand real-world applications of calculus, which is an interesting premise because you would think that those people would also not pick up a book with “calculus” in the title, but I suppose this could be a good book for math teachers to give realistic examples of how to use calculus. However, I already liked math before reading this book and I already understood calculus well enough (thanks to a few awesome high school math teachers), so I didn’t really enjoy the book.

My favorite parts of the book were actually the parts where it discussed the history of math and mathematicians, although according to one of our book-clubians, Ouellette got a few of her math history facts wrong. I noticed that in the chapter where math is supposed to help you lose weight (summary: eat fewer calories than you use), she has an incorrect anecdote about the history of dieting and the Romans’ usage of vomitoria. The way the story goes is that Romans used to have a special room called a Vomitorium where they would then regurgitate their meals. In fact, a vomitorium is a passageway in a theater or stadium that allows people to quickly fill up the seats. Also, the cover of the book says it can help you “survive a zombie apocalypse,” but in fact the only way to survive is to team up with vampires. I mean, if you’re being farmed by vampires, does that really count as surviving? It sounds like the only thing I could use this book for is to beat away the hordes of monsters trying to eat me.

Overall I wasn’t too impressed with the book, but then again I could be the wrong audience since I didn’t really need examples of derivatives and integrals to understand the concepts behind them. This book is more for someone who needs an “Aha!” moment about math.

Our next meeting is February 19th at 3pm in the same location as the past few times (Harvard University, Northwest Building, 52 Oxford St in Cambridge). There is a picture posted of the front door of the building back a couple posts ago if you haven’t been yet. We’ll be discussing Adventures in Paranormal Investigation by Joe Nickell. And if you can, please bring a munchie to share with the rest of us. See you then!

Edited to add: The book we’ll be reading for March (for all you people who manage to do stuff ahead of time) is The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean.

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Comments (3)

Do we know what the following book is?

Oh yes I knew I forgot something! The next book is “The Disappearing Spoon” by Sam Kean

Sounds good. Unfortunately I’ll have to miss again. Come to think of it March isn’t looking good either.

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