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190 Steven Strogatz: The Joy of x

A friendly and engaging guide to understanding mathematics, with relatable examples and anecdotes.

Steven Strogatz: The Joy of x


In "The Joy of x," Steven Strogatz takes readers on a journey through the world of mathematics, from basic arithmetic to calculus and beyond. With a warm and accessible writing style, Strogatz makes math approachable and interesting for all readers, using real-world examples and personal anecdotes to illustrate key concepts. The book covers topics such as geometry, probability, chaos theory, and more, making it a perfect read for anyone interested in learning about math in an engaging and relatable way.


Title: The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity

Author: Steven Strogatz

Publishing Year: 2019

Publisher: Mariner Books

Length in Hours: 6 hours and 9 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. Math is all around us, from the patterns in nature to the algorithms in our technology.
  2. The study of mathematics can help us better understand the world and make sense of complex systems.
  3. Mathematics is more than just numbers and equations; it is a language that can be used to express complex ideas.
  4. By breaking down complex concepts into simpler parts, we can understand even the most advanced mathematical theories.
  5. Math can be fun and exciting, and everyone has the potential to enjoy and learn from it.
Steven Strogatz: The Joy of x

5 funny quotes

  1. "Is there a word that means both interesting and fun? Math is that word."
  2. "Mathematicians are like Frenchmen: whatever you say to them, they translate it into their own language, and forthwith it is something entirely different."
  3. "When a mathematician says something is trivial, it probably isn't."
  4. "Mathematics is like checkers in being suitable for the young, not too difficult, amusing, and without peril to the state."
  5. "Calculus, the mathematical study of continuous change, underpins many of the greatest advancements of modern science, from planetary orbits to electromagnetism, and everything in between. It's also a subject that makes most students want to retch."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "We like to think of our lives as orderly, predictable, and comprehensible. But the truth is more likely to be this: our lives are constantly shaped and reshaped by chance events."
  2. "We take for granted our ability to see in the dark, but it's really an incredible feat of computation and signal processing."
  3. "Mathematics is an art, and as such affords the pleasures which all the arts afford."
  4. "Like maps and music, the equations are a way of making an abstract world tangible, of giving it form and substance."
  5. "Mathematics is the art of explanation. If you deny students the opportunity to engage in this activity – to pose their own problems, make their own conjectures and discoveries, to be wrong, to be creatively frustrated, to have an inspiration, and to cobble together their own explanations and proofs – you deny them mathematics itself."

5 dilemmas

  1. The debate over the value of pure versus applied mathematics, and whether mathematics should be viewed as a tool or as a creative art form.
  2. The challenge of making mathematics accessible and engaging for all students, including those who may not be naturally inclined towards the subject.
  3. The tension between the deterministic nature of mathematical models and the inherent unpredictability of many real-world phenomena, such as weather patterns and economic markets.
  4. The ethical considerations of using mathematical models to make decisions that affect human lives, such as in the case of algorithmic decision-making in criminal justice or lending.
  5. The question of whether mathematics is a universal language that could be used to communicate with extraterrestrial life.

5 examples

  1. The small-world phenomenon, popularized by Strogatz's research with Duncan Watts, shows how even in a large population with weak ties, individuals can be connected in a few steps through a "friend of a friend" network.
  2. Benoit Mandelbrot's discovery of fractals and the concept of self-similarity, which helped describe natural patterns like coastlines and mountains.
  3. The discovery of the irrational numbers by Pythagoras and Hippasus, which shattered the belief that all numbers could be expressed as a ratio of integers.
  4. The number theory work of Andrew Wiles, who proved Fermat's Last Theorem after 358 years of being unsolved.
  5. The use of game theory in economics by John Nash, whose life and work were portrayed in the movie A Beautiful Mind.

Referenced books

  1. "A Mathematician's Apology" by G.H. Hardy 
  2. "Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions" by Edwin A. Abbott 
  3. "The Mathematical Experience" by Philip J. Davis and Reuben Hersh 
  4. "The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan" by Robert Kanigel 
  5. "Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences" by John Allen Paulos 

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"Mathematicians are like Frenchmen: whatever you say to them, they translate it into their own language, and forthwith it is something entirely different."

Steven Strogatz: The Joy of x
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