To be honest, this one’s a bit of a disappointment when put alongside Kjartan Poskitt’s sizzling Do You Feel Lucky. This isn’t entirely Poskitt’s fault, as it’s less easy to get excited about fractions and averages than it is about probability (if you don’t think so, I bet you’re wrong).
Nonetheless, the book mostly does a good solid job of introducing fractions with a quick trip into averages as relish on the side to liven things up a bit. One or two of the sections are relatively dull (I found the interminable cake slicing section the worst), but the fact is a fair number of young people have trouble with fractions, and this book certainly brings the vulgar little beasts out into the open.
The only suspect moment was when he talked about Egyptian fractions – these seem to actually be the Greek fraction system used in most Greek maths (the confusion is easy enough, as it became best known when Greek culture was centred on the Egyptian system of Alexandria). What Poskitt doesn’t say is WHY the Greeks (Egyptians) only had fractions with one on the top, except for two thirds. (The answer, if you are interested, is that they used the symbol for the number with a dash over it as a fraction. So 1/3 was gamma with a dash over it (they used letters as numbers). For obscure reasons beta with a dash over it was 2/3, hence the existence of this that he mentions.)
It was also a bit of a shame when he describes the mistakes people make talking about percentages that he didn’t include the type of error heard recently on the BBC TV News. The presenter said something had gone up from 71 to 203, making it a 300% increase (where, in fact it’s a 200% increase).
And one other niggle – he’s very dismissive of decimal fractions, saying they are practically useless – but then he doesn’t mention irrational fractions (that can’t be made out of a ratio of two whole numbers) or transcendentals like pi, for which we haven’t any choice really but to use decimal fractions, so it’s not surprising.
You might think that irrationals and transcendentals are too complex for the audience, but another book from the same stable manages to take in general relativity! Even so, though it’s not the most shining example in the Murderous Maths series, it’s still a very useful introduction to working with fractions, with enough fun to stop it being tedious. As always, those cartoons help enormously (in fact you rather miss them in a couple of short stories that are included in the mix).
Review by Brian Clegg
** I like this non-fiction book because it is all about maths. I have learned a lot from the book which we can use at school; therefore I will not need a calculator to work out sums. The book was very funny in places and it was set out clearly.
I don’t think anyone who didn’t like maths would enjoy this book as it is set out like a textbook. To explain things more easily I think there needs to be more diagrams so it makes the book easier to understand.
I really enjoyed this book and I would have given it five stars, except I haven’t as it is more like a study book. Therefore I would give the book two stars, because you must really like the subject, otherwise you will end up really bored by the end of the book.
Review by Donna, Age 11