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Why Beauty Is Truth: A History of Symmetry – by Ian Stewart
This is the kind of math book I like: no pages full of equations I can’t follow. Clear writing and simple, logical steps take you from the observation that a butterfly possesses lateral symmetry, through a history and explanation of group theory, to the realization that the symmetry inherent in particle physics is the same phenomenon.
I like the Keats reference in the title, but Stewart doesn’t actually explain why beauty is truth. He assumes that symmetry=beauty. I’ve never found a chessboard that beautiful, though.
[UPDATE: Boy, is my face red! I didn’t read this book. I read The Equation That Couldn’t Be Solved: How Mathematical Genius Discovered the Language of Symmetry, by Mario Livio. The books both deal with the topic of mathematical symmetry, and they each have a pretty butterfly on the cover:
This is so embarrassing. Actually this isn’t Mario Livio’s first popularization of math that I’ve enjoyed. While figuring out what I’d done wrong I realized he also wrote The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World’s Most Astonishing Number, which I also recommend. (I actually did read it!)
I’m so sorry.
I had read The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh! of Homer and enjoyed it, and expected more of the same in this book. In the “Simpsons” volume of this series, basic tenets of philosophy are explained through examples culled from America’s favorite
cartoon series. “South Park and Philosophy” is different, because the show itself contains a coherent philosophy. (Basically, it’s libertarian.) The essays vary in quality, the best being by an economist who discusses the episode “Gnomes,” and manages to convince me that it’s the best explanation and defense of capitalism ever broadcast on national television.
A fascinating overview of how economic principles apply to real-world events. A more useful book than Freakonomics because it deals with situations everyone actually encounters. (“Freakonomics” gives us cheating sumo wrestlers and drug pushers earning less than minimum wage; “Undercover Economist” explains why Starbucks coffee is so expensive and why good used cars are so hard to find.)
On The Wealth of Nations (Books That Changed the World) – by P. J. O’Rourke
I will never read The Wealth of Nations. Knowing this, I tried this book hoping for an entertaining summary of basic economic theory on the order of Bill Bryson’s excellent take on the history of science in A Short History of Nearly Everything. Unfortunately, O’Rourke left his (normally terrific) sense of humor at the door. I learned quite a bit about basic economics, but I wish I’d had more fun in the process.
The Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed – by J. C. Bradbury
Okay, I was on a real tear reading books on economics and I thought: “Baseball! How would an economist’s view illuminate my favorite sport?” This book doesn’t answer my question. This book doesn’t answer any questions, at least none that haven’t been answered before, and better, elsewhere.
Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong – by the guys at Baseball Prospectus
This is the book for the baseball fan who’s interested in more than RBIs, home runs, and ERA. Chapters entitled “Is David Ortiz the Greatest Clutch Player Ever?” and “Is Joe Torre a Good Manager?” address questions like “Does clutch hitting actually exist?” and “How do you seperate out a manager’s impact from that of his players?” Many more chapters like this make this a good bathroom read. Except for the fact that you won’t want to put it down.