Humble Pi

We review the sixth of this year’s nominees for the Book of the Year


Matt Parker is a stand-up mathematician, YouTuber and all-round maths lover. You can read more about him in our interview with him that appeared in issue 09. His latest book, Humble Pi (Amazon UK, Waterstones, Maths Gear (signed)), takes the reader through a range of mathematical topics by looking at past errors that have been made in these areas.


Humble Pi is a very entertaining read. Writing about mistakes, and the consequences of mistakes, allows Matt to include a number of amusing, and sometimes slightly frightening, anecdotes. These mistakes are used as an “excuse” to explain the underlying maths in an informative and engaging way.


The mathematical ideas contained in this book are very clearly explained, and each one is attached to a real life mistake, making the importance of each bit of maths immediately clear.


As this book is about mistakes, and mistakes that have easily noticeable consequences make the best stories, the maths in this book is mostly that related to science and engineering. This means that the book spends time on topics that many maths books pass by, such as the resonance of bridges and financial maths. I enjoyed the financial maths section in particular, as this is an area that I don’t usually read about or spend much time thinking about.

Although readers may be aware of some of the the famous mistakes, such as the wobbly Millennium Bridge or Pac-Man breaking on the 256th level, there are many great stories here that readers will not be familiar with; and readers may well not know the true mathematical reasons behind the more famous stores.


Overall, Humble Pi is both fun and interesting, and I would highly recommend it. I have in fact already given it to two friends as a present, and might be gifting it to more people this year now that the cheaper paperback is out.

More from Chalkdust