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The Best Writing on Mathematics 2018

Mircea Pitici, editor
Princeton University Press
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
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The Basic Library List Committee suggests that undergraduate mathematics libraries consider this book for acquisition.

[Reviewed by
Michele Intermont
, on

What do Sleeping Beauty and World War II have in common? Both make an appearance in the latest anthology of the year’s best mathematical writing. The first volume of this series appeared in 2010, and no doubt many readers are already familiar with it. Personally, I meant to pick up earlier iterations of this book but never quite got around to it. My foray into this volume will nudge me to rectify that situation shortly.  

These 18 articles, which were originally published in 2017, are drawn from a wide range of sources and touch on a wide range of ideas. This is its charm. The pieces are short enough to read an entire article in one sitting. Further, these articles look friendly for a general reader to pick up: while some articles involve mathematical notation, most have an abundance of wordy paragraphs. There are also plenty of interesting graphics.

As an editor, Pitici showcases breadth in his choices. Many readers of these MAA Reviews will already be familiar with Francis Su’s compelling remarks on “Mathematics for Human Flourishing”; Robbert Dijkgraaf’s article about quantum physics leading to new mathematical questions is also intriguing, and not one I would come across in the normal course of events. These articles which connect mathematics to the larger world are nicely complemented by articles regarding ideas one likely expects to find in this book, ideas about non-transitive dice and probabilities in bingo, for example. My expectation was that all the articles would be in this latter vein, and I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. The breadth on display here provides evidence that mathematics is more than a list of rules to follow, and is one reason I think this volume would make a good choice for a student book prize.  

In addition to the pieces chosen for inclusion into the volume, Pitici includes a lengthy list of notable writings from the year. This treasure trove for further exploration is added value to an already worthwhile addition to bookshelves.

Michele Intermont is Associate Professor of Mathematics at Kalamazoo College.

The table of contents is not available.