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The Heart of Mathematics: An Invitation to Effective Thinking

Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird
John Wiley
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Allen Stenger
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This is a very modest revision of the already-excellent second edition. It in an inquiry-based text and has what is probably a unique approach to a math appreciation course: rather than focusing on fun math or useful math, it tries to teach how mathematicians think and approach problems.

Although this third edition is 200 pages longer than its predecessor, much of the increase is due to reformatting, with about 80 pages of new material. Most of the book is completely unchanged. There is a new section in Chapter 5 on the Koenigsberg Bridge problem and Eulerian circuits, and Chapter 6 has been rearranged. The old Chapter 7, “Taming Uncertainty,” has been split into separate chapters on probability and on statistical analysis of data and statistical inference. Most of the book’s new material is in this new statistics chapter. This chapter adds a number of interesting real-world problems, such as “what exactly does 30% chance of rain mean?” and a look at the 1969 Vietnam draft lottery, where statistical data makes it clear that the draws were not randomized enough.

Bottom line: An improvement over an already-great text, but the improvements are fairly far along in the text and most courses will not get that far. Unfortunately, the existence of a new edition makes obsolete (in the eyes of booksellers) the previous perfectly-good edition.

Allen Stenger is a math hobbyist and retired software developer. He is webmaster and newsletter editor for the MAA Southwestern Section and is an editor of the Missouri Journal of Mathematical Sciences. His mathematical interests are number theory and classical analysis. He volunteers in his spare time at, a math help site that fosters inquiry learning.

CHAPTER ONE: Fun and Games: An introduction to rigorous thought

CHAPTER TWO: Number Contemplation
Section 2.1. Counting [Pigeonhole principle].
Section 2.2. Numerical Patterns in Nature: [Fibonacci numbers].
Section 2.3. Prime cuts of numbers [Prime numbers].
Section 2.4. Crazy clocks and checking out bars [Modular arithmetic].
Section 2.5. Secret Codes and How to Become a Spy [RSA public key cryptography].
Section 2.6. The irrational side of numbers [Irrational numbers].
Section 2.7. Get real [The real number line].

Section 3.1. Beyond Numbers [An introduction to one-to-one correspondence].
Section 3.2. Comparing the Infinite [Examples of one-to-one correspondences].
Section 3.3. The Missing Member [Cantor's diagonalization proof that |N|<|R|].
Section 3.4. Travels Toward the Stratosphere of Infinities [Power set theorem].
Section 3.5. Straightening up the circle [Geometrical correspondences].

CHAPTER FOUR: Geometric Gems
Section 4.1. Pythagoras and his hypotenuse [Blaskara's elegant proof].
Section 4.2. A view of an art gallery [A view-obstruction question from computational geometry].
Section 4.3. The sexiest rectangle [The Golden Rectangle].
Section 4.4. Soothing symmetry and spinning pinwheels [Aperiodic tilings].
Section 4.5. The Platonic Solids Turn Amorous [Symmetry and duality in the Platonic Solids].
Section 4.6. The shape of reality? [Non-Euclidean geometries].
Section 4.7. The Fourth Dimension [Geometry through analogy].

CHAPTER FIVE: Contortions of Space
Section 5.1. Rubber sheet geometry [Topological equivalence by distortion].
Section 5.2. The Band That Wouldn't Stop Playing [Möbius Band and Klein Bottle].
Section 5.3. Circuit training. [The Euler circuit theorem].
Section 5.4. Feeling edgy? [The Euler characteristic].
Section 5.5. Knots and links [A little knot theory].
Section 5.6. Fixed Points, Hot Loops, and Rainy Days [The Brouwer Fixed Point Theorem].

CHAPTER SIX: Fractals and Chaos
Section 6.1. Images [A gallery of fractals].
Section 6.2. The infinitely detailed beauty of fractals [Creating fractals through repeated processes].
Section 6.3. Between dimensions [Fractal dimension].
Section 6.4. The mysterious art of imaginary fractals [Julia and Mandelbrot Sets].
Section 6.5. The Dynamics of Change [Repeated applications of simple processes].
Section 6.6. Predetermined chaos [Deterministic chaos].

CHAPTER SEVEN: Taming Uncertainty
Section 7.1. Chance surprises [Unexpected scenarios involving chance].
Section 7.2. Predicting the future in an uncertain world [Probability].
Section 7.3. Random thoughts [Coincidences].
Section 7.4. Down for the count [Systematic counting].
Section 7.5. Dizzling, Defending, and Doctoring [Probability of Precipitation, game theory, Bayesian probability]

CHAPTER EIGHT: Meaning from Data
Section 8.1. Stumbling Through a Minefield of Data [Pitfalls of statistics].
Section 8.2. Getting Your Data to Shape Up [Organizing, describing, and summarizing data]
Section 8.3. Looking at Super Models [Mathematically described distributions]
Section 8.4. Go Figure [Making inferences from data, hypothesis testing]
Section 8.5. War, Sports, and Tigers [Cause and effect and correlation, Simpson's Paradox, famous applications of inference]

CHAPTER NINE: Deciding Wisely
Section 9.1. Great Expectations [Expected value]
Section 9.2. Risk [Deciding personal and public safety]
Section 9.3. Money Matters [Compound interest]
Section 9.4. Peril at the polls [voting]
Section 9.5. Cutting cake for greedy people [fair division]