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How to Cut a Cake: And Other Mathematical Conundrums

Ian Stewart
Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 
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The Basic Library List Committee recommends this book for acquisition by undergraduate mathematics libraries.

[Reviewed by
Underwood Dudley
, on

For those of you in a hurry, I’ll say briefly that here’s a new book by Ian Stewart and it’s just as good as you’d expect. (If you don’t know that Stewart is this generation’s Martin Gardner, and his worthy successor, then you should. If you don’t know who Martin Gardner is, shame on you.)

It deserves a few more words than that, though. Its contents are twenty columns that Stewart wrote for Scientific American and its non-English editions from 1987 to 2001. He has, he says, edited them lightly, restored material that was cut from the original printed versions, and included material from readers. The topics include fair division, the behavior of random walks, methods of lacing shoes, paradoxes such as that of the surprise test, packing objects in finite regions, tripleless sequences, zero-knowledge protocols, card-shuffling, double bubbles, an amazing connection among the Tower of Hanoi, Sierpinski’s gasket, and Pascal’s triangle, and others from mathematics and from recreational mathematics. The writing is clear, non-technical, engaging, intelligent,... just as good as you’d expect from Stewart.

A fine book. I didn’t think much of the illustrations (not the Figures, which are fine), but you don’t have to look at them too long.

Woody Dudley has retired from DePauw University and is now living in Florida.

1. Your Half's Bigger Than My Half!
2. Repealing the Law of Averages
3. Arithmetic and Old Lace
4. Paradox Lost
5. Tight Tins for Round Sardines
6. The Never-Ending Chess Game
7. Quods and Quazars
8. Zero Knowledge Protocols
9. Empires on the Moon
10. Empires and Electronics
11. Resurrection Shuffle
12. Double Bubble, Toil and Trouble
13. Crossed Lines in the Brick Factory
14. Division Without Envy
15. Furiously flashing fireflies
16. Why Phone Cords Get Tangled
17. Sierpinski's Ubiquitous Gasket
18. Defend the Roman empire!
19. Triangulation Takeaway
20. Easter is a quasicrystal
Further Reading