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Review - How Long is a Piece of String - Rob Easterway & Jeremy Wyndham

 

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Maths can jolly well be fun. That's the message of this book, and though it occasionally strains itself in the effort, on the whole it delivers.

In fact it's a very entertaining book, which will appeal to older children as much as adults (at first glance inside the book you might think it is a children's book because of the hand-drawn illustrations and the very upbeat tone). Some of the mathematical areas explored are delightful, or just surprising. Finding out, for instance, why the planet-based days come in the order they do (especially interesting with languages like French where many more of the days are still planet-based) might seem abstruse, but was, in fact wonderful.

There's also a lovely section on scams, suggested strategies to win the high cash TV game shows, how a taxi's meter works (and why the US ones are better than the UK ones) and much more.

Inevitably some of the sections are less satisfying than others - personally, items on the maths behind memorable sporting moments or how mathematical proofs worked proved less inspiring, but there'll soon be another interesting factoid along, finishing with an excellent section on how spin doctors can use numbers (and particularly the evil percentage change) in different ways. The BBC's News department, which has been known to confuse a percentage and a percentage increase in its time, could do to read this.

This is a solid, four star book. It could have made the leap into the exclusive five star category if it had made up its mind whether it was for adults or kids and written more clearly to the audience, and if it had read with more flow - each chapter could in effect be a separate article - but even so, it's a good book and would make an excellent gift for difficult-to-buy-for people.

 

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Reviewed by Brian Clegg

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Last update 05 June 2007