Math is everywhere. It is a part of everything we do now. Math developed the roads and bridges we drive on. Math created the buildings we work in (or used to work in, pre-pandemic). Math forms all the technology we use without a second thought. But what happens when the math goes wrong? When someone fudges the numbers or uses the wrong unit? Or when data get deleted? Sometimes what happens is a mild inconvenience that is easily rectified but other times, the results are catastrophic. Humble Pi by Matt Parker walks us through some of those mistakes, what we can learn from them, and how we can avoid similar mistakes next time.
The scope of the type of math (or maths if you’re Australian and British like the author) errors presented in the book is far reaching. Parker does an excellent job of find some sort of error that everyone will find interesting. Overall, he also does a good job of presenting the math and error in a way that anyone could understand even if you don’t have a strong math background. Personally, I think he simplifies things too much. I mean, who is going to pick up a book about math errors except people that already know and love math? I did learn some knew things:
- it’s possible for a fitness class on a lower floor of skyscraper to cause the upper floors to shake and sway wildly
- computer programmers and hardware developers need to quickly update a lot of basic things in our electronics or we’re facing a technological doomsday
- Excel is not to be used as a database
My overall biggest issue with this book is only an issue if you listen to the audiobook which Parker also narrates. I know that the subtitle is A Comedy of Maths Errors, but there are times when Parker’s tone is much too light or glib when discussing a tragic event. Even if the event happened hundreds of years ago, some respect and deference should be shown to the lives lost.