The Murderous Maths of Everything

Below you will learn about at least one interesting thing you can do with a publisher’s press release. I had no inkling they were so versatile, but let the Resident IT Consultant loose on a maths book and allow him the use of scissors and the previously mentioned press release, and…

I gave up at the Sieve of Eratosthenes. So you will forgive me (or maybe you won’t) for having handed Kjartan Poskitt’s book over to the man with the scissors. Although, having said that, I do feel The Murderous Maths of Everything looks interesting. Actually. It has come too late for me, but I could see myself studying bits and pieces from the book. A little at a time.

But here is the Resident IT Consultant on Kjartan’s book and also an earlier source of happiness for a very young R IT C:

“Where once there was nothing but Mathematics for the Million (Lancelot Hogben, 1936) there are today at least a dozen well-written popular mathematics books for adults published every year. But for children there is very little to satisfy, or inspire, an interest in mathematics. Look at Amazon’s popularity ratings and you find them dominated by study and revision guides.

For more than ten years this has been the sector of the market addressed by Kjartan Poskitt’s Murderous Maths series. Economically priced and heavily illustrated (many by Philip Reeve), these informal and irreverent paperbacks have built an enthusiastic following from children aged eight and upward. Kjartan’s latest book, The Murderous Maths of Everything, has one important innovation: it is in colour.

It looks very attractive. With something of the feel of a comic book it addresses a wide range of topics ranging from the Sieve of Eratosthenes through the probabilities of being dealt different poker hands to topological theorems that are not normally encountered outside university mathematics. I particularly enjoyed the double spread on mobius strips which introduced me to a demonstration (cutting around a pair of loops made out of a paper cross) which I hadn’t previously seen.

Kjartan Poskitt, The Murderous Maths of Everything

The book reminded me of a book I received as a seventh birthday present, Irving Adler’s Giant Colour Book of Mathematics (Golden Press, 1958) and I thought it would be interesting to compare the content. They are almost exactly the same size, in physical dimensions and number of pages: Adler’s has 92 pages, Poskitt’s 96. Adler’s book has an index, and is much more respectful in tone than Poskitt’s, though just as colourfully illustrated. Poskitt’s is much more entertaining. Neither book is afraid to use demanding vocabulary when the need arises.

Irving Adler, The Giant Colour Book of Mathematics

The two books cover a surprisingly similar range of topics including prime numbers, the Fibonacci series, mathematics and music, conic sections and Pythagoras. Both state the irrationality of the square root of two but neither attempts to explain it. Poskitt’s book provides more detail in some areas: there is much more on the application of probability to a range of games, the uses of prime numbers (Adler was writing long before their use in cryptography), and, surprisingly, Euclidean geometry (was Adler rebelling against its historical status?). It also covers several topics not included in Adler’s book: cycloids, mathematics in space, time zones and topology (including the fixed point theorem).

Kjartan Poskitt, The Murderous Maths of Everything

I was really impressed at how comprehensive a coverage of mathematics Adler’s book provides: projective geometry, great circles, infinite series, integral calculus and complex numbers are all touched on briefly and simply. Important concepts such as coordinate systems and algebra are introduced in easy to understand ways. A child familiar with the content of this book would find nothing to frighten them in secondary mathematics.

Irving Adler, The Giant Colour Book of Mathematics

Of course Adler’s book is only available second hand today while Poskitt’s can be bought easily. The style of Adler’s writing might strike a modern child as old-fashioned, possibly even slightly patronising in places. I find Poskitt’s style a little brash in place, but then I don’t belong to his target audience! For an eight to twelve-year-old with an interest (or a potential interest) in mathematics it would be ideal.”

I foresee an avalanche of little mathematicians in years to come. Apologies for the lenghty review. He’s not reviewed anything for days, so presumably felt deprived. Glad to find I’m not the only one to find square roots irrational. If you find me a bit out-of-sorts, it’s purely because Kjartan’s event in Edinburgh the other year sounded like a lot of fun, and I was on the wrong side of the wall of the tent. Outside. He was noisy. And popular. Hmph.

One last apology for the half naked cowboy.

(Illustrations by Rob Davis)

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3 responses to “The Murderous Maths of Everything

  1. That sounds like a great book. My brain is probably only up to 8-12 year old math at this point, so I’d probably enjoy it. Excellent review, Resident IT Consultant!

  2. I’m mostly shocked by how advanced the maths for this age group is. I’m guessing the maths then gets easier as you get into your teens. And for my age it’s probably back to 1+1=2.

  3. I knew that the power dynamics had changed in my life when my 13 year old nephew was explaining to me how space is curved by demonstrating with a basketball and a large ottoman.

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