Book Review: Humble Pi: When Math goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker (two stars)

Book Review: Humble Pi: When Math goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker (two stars)

Engineering is easy if you know the math.

Cotton candy for the mind. Tastes nice, but no substance. A collection of math mistake trivia. Reads as if Parker collected a bunch of columns published elsewhere and threw them together. Not bad, just not good.

It is a mathematical certainty that you can find any pattern you want, as long as you’re prepared to ignore enough data that does not match.

Lots of folk knowledge. “Humans instinctively perceive numbers logarithmically, not linearly.” Disagree, naively we think big, bigger, biggest. “As an ex-high-school teacher, I have a framed poster in my office claiming that ‘Education works best when all the parts are working.’ It shows three cogs … all linked together. This poster has become an internet meme with the description ‘mechanically impossible yet accurate’ because three cogs meshed together cannot move.” His solution is equally telling.

Lots of folk knowledge. “Humans instinctively perceive numbers logarithmically, not linearly.” Disagree, naively we think big, bigger, biggest. “As an ex-high-school teacher, I have a framed poster in my office claiming that ‘Education works best when all the parts are working.’ It shows three cogs … all linked together. This poster has become an internet meme with the description ‘mechanically impossible yet accurate’ because three cogs meshed together cannot move.” His solution is equally telling.

The rule of thumb should be: if you’re not going to do any math with it, don’t store it [electronically] as a number. 

Parker offers a sobering reminder that, as much as math permeates our culture, most of us don’t know enough to recognize when number lead us or lead us astray. Certainly not enough to realize how much opinion leaders use numbers to mislead us.

Our modern world depends on mathematics, and when things go wrong, it should serve as a sobering reminder that we need to keep an eye on the hot cheese but also remind us of all the math that works faultlessly around us.

Book Review: The Stars Now Unclaimed (The Universe After #1) by Drew Williams (three stars)

Book Review: The Stars Now Unclaimed (The Universe After #1) by Drew Williams (three stars)

That’s why I was here: trying to right my own wrongs. In a very small way, of course. I was only one woman, and it was a big, big universe. Also, I had a great many wrongs.

Near superhero space opera. Protagonist is a close as a human can get to being a super and has incredible luck to boot. Good, if superficial introspection. Linear story careens from one crisis to the next, often saved by chance.

“The local radiation will be divided between us, and it’ll go that much slower.”

Williams apparently learned science from Star Trek. Innumerable physics gaffs which know the reader out of the spell of the story. The supposed Pulse radiation impacts everything except what the protag needs.

“For a religious leader-person, you suck at comfort, you know that, Preacher?” “It has been mentioned, yes.”

Some humor. Would appeal to and be appropriate for young adult readers except for the language.

“… long since gone, eons ago, along with the atmosphere.” “When we finally broke out of the caverns and back into atmosphere …” Huh?

Decent ending, despite hooks to the rest of the series. Might have gotten another star had I not been reading real science fiction on my other device.

Then again, very few of us are lucky enough to choose the day we die.

Book Review: Lincoln on War by Harold Holzer (Four Stars)

Book Review: Lincoln on War by Harold Holzer (four stars)

“All this talk about the dissolution of the Union is humbug—nothing but folly. We WON’T dissolve the Union, and you SHAN’T.”

Primary source material on Lincoln’s speeches, letters, thoughts on wars in general and the Civil War in particular. Excellent presentation, including short paragraphs giving context.

“Our army held the war in the hollow in their hand [after Gettysburg], and they would not close it.”

Lincoln was a great communicator; it’s easy to see why folks (even in the North) loved and hated him. History shaped him, but he likewise shaped history.

“Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.”

Book Review: Jefferson’s Second Revolution: The Election Crisis of 1800 and the Triumph of Republicanism by Susan Dunn (three stars)

Book Review: Jefferson’s Second Revolution: The Election Crisis of 1800 and the Triumph of Republicanism by Susan Dunn (three stars)

“There is nothing more common,” wrote Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia in 1786, “than to confound the terms of the American Revolution with those of the late American war. The American war is over; but this is far from being the case with the American revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the great drama is closed. It remains yet to establish and perfect our new forms of government; and to prepare the principles, morals, and manners of our citizens, for these forms of government, after they are established and brought to perfection.”

A competent, if over long survey of the American revolutionary period. A necessary corrective for those thinking the revolution ended in 1776, or 1781, or 1787. Students of history already know recent elections are not the first stirred with scandal and accusations of false dealing

‘The leaders of the Virginia dynasty—Jefferson, Madison, Monroe—cherished liberty and equality and trumpeted the pursuit of happiness, but they were unwilling—or perhaps intellectually unable—to begin the process of creating institutions and programs to extend those principles to all Americans.’

She makes the case that a robust two-party system is vital to American democracy despite that all the politicians, including Jefferson, wanted only one party—theirs. That most were inconsistent, if not out-right hypocrites is well documented. Like a dime novel, she opens with a sensational cliffhanger which she doesn’t work her back to until two-thirds through. Reads like a research paper, the footnotes mercifully at the end.

“The party committed suicide,” wrote a frustrated [John] Adams, and “indicted me for the murder.”

Numerous false details alert the reader to possible errors in more weighty topics. Dozens of “historian said” references, which add little to her narrative but bloat. Students of history are wary of manufactured and even inverted citations, ala Ward Churchill. Dunn and her readers would be better served had she restrained herself to primary sources.

‘Like Machiavelli, Tocqueville came to the sagacious conclusion that the guardian of freedom was tumult. The direct source of the tumult? Democracy itself.’

A glance at her other titles suggests Dunn’s agenda, which she pursues here. The founders were not trying to establish a democracy—they rightly feared that word, especially has it manifested itself in France—but a republic.

‘Under Jefferson and Madison, radical, revolutionary ideas—equality, majority rule, self-interest, democracy—had entered the mainstream of American politics. The old style of elitist, deferential politics was gone for good.’

Book Review: The Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Unconquerable Sun (Sun Chronicles #1) by Kate Elliott (Three Stars)

“This is your last chance to surrender,” I murmur as we stride along. Sun snorts. “I don’t surrender.”

Epic space opera, though the emphasis is on internecine politics more than space battles. Quasi-superhuman protagonist teams of heroes. Had a more Chinese than Greek feel. Adolescent emotions all around. Fun, lightweight read.

I am the worst of children, for I have defied my parents and abandoned my obligations. Perhaps my family honestly intends to kill me, since death is just another form of running away.

The point of view character, despite the book and series titles, is not Sun. In fact Sun is among the least interesting of the cast. Like watching the Marvel movies on fast: begins choppy and episodic. Gradually a unified picture forms, it requires patience. Numerous homages to classic earth literature.

Sun had not taken her for the blushing kind, although she definitely struck Sun as the kind who would become dramatically infatuated with a handsome enemy who’d tried to kill her.

Many errors in gravitation, orbital dynamics, and inertia. The usual Star Trekkian physics, which is to say not based on that of this universe. Popcorn for the brain.

Maybe the truth helps us understand where we stand. I’m just grateful I have people I can trust.

Book Review: She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor #1) by Chelly Parker-Chan (three stars)

Book Review: She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor #1) by Chelly Parker-Chan (three stars)

In that one terrible moment, she knew what her fate of nothing meant. She had thought it was only insignificance, that she would never be anything or do anything that mattered. But it wasn’t.
It was death.

If Leo Tolstoy had written Mulan instead of War and Peace. Right down to the confusing naming conventions. Deeply insightful light historical fantasy into the nature of desire and destiny.

The monastery was never to have been forever; she was always going to be expelled into that world of chaos and violence—of greatness and nothingness.

Even the bad guys are three-dimensional and engaging. Come to think of it, there aren’t any good guys. None the really interesting characters are men. Telling more might spoil things, but Chinese history is a strong clue.

Zhu felt a stab of uncharacteristic pity. Not-wanting is a desire too; it yields suffering just as much as wanting.

Why only three stars? Pornography. The first two-thirds of the story treats sex indirectly and subtly, then Parker-Chan dumps the reader into a graphic, gratuitous sex scene. Doesn’t just violate the flow of the story, cheapens everything before and after. Totally unnecessary. They had great sex; it changed their lives. Okay, but close the bedroom door.

“Even the most shining future, if desired, will have suffering as its heart.”

Won’t be back for more. Sad. So much potential.