Geeky Library II

Published on Sunday, May 09, 2010 in , , , , , , , , , ,

Colossal Book of MathematicsLast year, I provided you with some great geeky reading in my Geeky Library post. With summer almost upon us, I thought it was a good time to revisit suggestions for an updated geeky library.

Caroline Taggart gives us a good start with two books. In i before e (except after c), there's a whole host of mnemonics for a wide variety of subjects. If you enjoyed Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge: The Book of Mnemonic Devices, which I reviewed a few years back, I think you'll also enjoy i before e (except after c).

Caroline Taggart's other book is I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School. In this one, you revisit all those rules and facts that teachers told you were important. It's quite fun to look back and ask yourself how important those things actually were, above and beyond knowing them for the test. If you want to remember any of these, the two books mentioned in the previous paragraph would be perfect companions.

Closely related to I Used to Know That is Michael Powell's Stuff You Should Have Learned At School. The subjects here are divided up by subject: English, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography, The Classics, and Music. It's funny how much reading these facts brings back memories of when you were first learning them in school.

Turning to numbers, Derrick Niederman has released a numeric encyclopedia called Number Freak: From 1 to 200- The Hidden Language of Numbers Revealed. While there are online sites with content similar to this book, such as The Number Correlation Database, Number Dictionary, Number Gossip, Numeropedia, Prime Curios, What's Special About This Number?, and Zoo of Numbers, the book itself is quite engaging by using not only examples, but many fun mathematical puzzles and challenges, as well. You can learn more about this book via Math Blog's interview with Derrick Niederman.

It's tough to talk about math, and not bring up Martin Gardner, of course. I could mention just about any book, but I'd like to draw particular attention to The Colossal Book of Mathematics: Classic Puzzles, Paradoxes, and Problems, where he takes some of the most popular topics from his previous columns, and brings them up to date in a huge volume of mathematics that it nonetheless interesting for everyone to enjoy! Thanks to Google Books, you can even browse through the book here.

Coffee table books are often designed to catch the eye, and engage the reader as they look through it. It's tough to imagine applying this style of work to math, but Clifford A. Pickover has managed to do just that with his simply titled The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics. Each subject is only one page long, and they're arranged chronologically, so as you read it, you can get a sense of the types of mathematical knowledge that each era in history held.

Recently, I added a new section to the Mental Gym that teaches how to solve the 15 puzzle. While developing this section, The Famous 15 Puzzle proved to be a very big help. I learned about variations I'd never even heard of, and the true story behind the puzzles development (nope, it didn't originate with Sam Loyd). Jerry Slocum has more about this book on his own site, and even Java-based versions of some of the puzzles in the book! Interestingly, the puzzle that comes with the box isn't on tracks, which was an important feature of earlier versions.

The last 3 books I'll mention in this entry are dedicated to particular areas of knowledge that geeks are sure to find interesting.

First, there's The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. What The Math Book above is to math, this book is to the periodic table of the elements. Try browsing through it yourself to see one of the most beautiful and engaging looks at the elements that make up our universe. The authors have even gone a step beyond just a mere book, by developing an Elements app (iTunes Link) specifically for the iPad.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita gave an interesting TED talk about predicting Iran's future (YouTube Link). It was based on his work about predicting outcomes based on self-interest and influence. His book, The Predictioneer's Game: Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future talks more about this as a whole. It's a field that is relatively new, but fascinating to examine nonetheless. Browsing through the book, and reading through the site, you begin to wonder about the possibilities of a burgeoning field, which is often exciting.

I'll wind up this entry with The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World, Tim Harford's book on game theory applied to the modern world, with a particular focus on why things in daily life so often seem to defy logic. Over at the author's YouTube account, there are some fascinating examinations of things like racial segregation, overpaid bosses, and economics in dating. It's almost funny to see these complex ideas broken down, and see how simple they can really become.

Do you have any suggestions of your own? Have you read any of these books, and would like to give your own review? Let's hear about it in the comments!

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