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Mathematics in Everyday Life

John Haigh
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Charles Ashbacher
, on

Given the common use of the phrase, the title is a bit inaccurate. The general meaning of the phrase “Mathematics in everyday life” is the math that the average person uses and understands. Things like balancing checkbooks, computing interest charges and returns, the value of annuities and in baseball season how to compute earned run and batting averages. The content in this book is at a level much higher than that. Understanding it requires advanced knowledge of functions, matrices and even some differential and integral calculus.

The first chapter has the title “Money” and deals with interest and investing computations. Logarithms and summations are used in the descriptions. The second chapter is called “Differential Equations” and it could be the first chapter in a textbook on the subject. It is difficult to see where the problems here would fit into the everyday life of very many people. The main subject is predator-prey systems.

Chapter three deals with sports and games, the mathematics of lawn tennis, snooker, point allocation in the decathlon, the mathematics of scoring in darts and the strategies behind penalty kicks in soccer are some of the main points. Chapter four deals with business applications and introduces complex problems in linear programming, scoring for promotion, investing for profits and the efficient allocation of resources.

The most relevant topic to the average person appears in chapter five, “Social sciences.” There is coverage of Simpson’s Paradox and the consequences when a population is being screened for a characteristic that only a few have and a test that is less than 100% accurate is being used to perform the screening. It is one more demonstration of the wastefulness of blanket testing of populations using a test that can return false positives. Chapter six, “TV Game Shows” is interesting, but chapter seven, “Gambling” is largely routine and has appeared in countless other books.

A large number of exercises are given at the end of each chapter, no solutions are given. While this book is a good response to the first year calculus student asking what math is used for, it is a significant overstatement to consider the contents a topic of everyday life. 

Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, and teaching college classes. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.

See the table of contents in the publisher's webpage.