Foolproof, and Other Mathematical Meditations

By Brian Hayes

“Brian Hayes wants to persuade us that mathematics is too significant and enjoyable to be left to the professionals. His fascinating and approachable study of mathematical territory both far and near is found in Foolproof and Other Mathematical Meditations, which informs readers of mathematical concepts like Markov chains and Sudoku. Non-mathematician Hayes contends that mathematics is not just a necessary tool for comprehending the universe but also a world unto itself, containing things and patterns that go beyond the realm of the material world. Hayes takes the reader on an exploration of this foreign territory in a collection of pieces.

Math has a bad rep for being boring, challenging, and disconnected from ordinary life. The opinion of a talking Barbie doll was that “math class is hard.” But Hayes makes arithmetic appear enjoyable. Hayes wants his readers to share his passion, whether retracing the history of a well-known yarn about a great mathematical prodigy, wondering what might happen to a lost ball in the nth dimension, or demonstrating that there are such things as quasirandom numbers. Because of this, he envisions a movie on the Riemann zeta function discovery (“The year is 1972. The setting: Afternoon tea in Fuld Hall at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey”), discusses better-than-average averages, and reveals that Sudoku does contain some math. The view from the top makes it worthwhile even though some of these writings require a climb up the learning curve.”