The Hidden Half

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


Michael Blastland is a writer and broadcaster, and was the creator of BBC Radio 4’s More or Less. His book The Hidden Half: How the World Conceals its Secrets (Amazon UK, Waterstones), looks at how to understand, and how to avoid misunderstanding statistics and research.


This book is less of a maths book than many of the books on our shortlist, and much that is discussed relates to science in general. But, as More or Less fans might expect from its creator, an awful lot of its content is related to statistics and evidence; enough that we here at Chalkdust have deemed this a maths book.

In The Hidden Half, Michael Blastland takes the reader through statistical and numerical ideas that most often lead to confusion: relative and absolute risks, the difficulty of comparing now with the past, and the effect of hidden factors. He takes you through each idea with a series of stories illustrating the effect and importance of each idea.


The book begins with a story about marmorkrebs: a species of crayfish that can reproduce asexually, leading to their offspring being clones. Even though both the nature (genes) and nurture (enviroment) of the offspring could be kept the same for each child, there were still surprising differences in the appearance, size, and even internal organs of these offspring. From the go, this story had me hooked, and was a great illustration of an extra hidden causal factor.


This book looks at problems of the misinterpretation of statistics from the point of view of a scientist or economist, giving the effects of this misinterpretation a very real feel.


I really enjoyed this one, and would strongly recommend it to many of my friends, especially my more science-liking (and less maths-loving) friends who would find themselves enjoying this before really realising that the ideas they’re reading about are mathematical. This makes for a very enjoyable read for a mathematician who will not be familiar with the stories that Michael tells.


Now that we’ve review all the book’s on this year’s shortlist, you can vote for your favourite. The book with the highest number of votes will be crowned the 2019 Readers’ Choice. Voting closes at 5pm on Wednesday 26 February.

What is your favourite book on the 2019 Book of the Year shortlist?

  • A Compendium Of Mathematical Methods: A handbook for school teachers by Jo Morgan (48%, 37 Votes)
  • Geometry Puzzles in Felt Tip: A compilation of puzzles from 2018 by Catriona Shearer (18%, 14 Votes)
  • Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors by Matt Parker (16%, 12 Votes)
  • So You Think You’ve Got Problems? by Alex Bellos (5%, 4 Votes)
  • The Art of Logic by Eugenia Cheng (4%, 3 Votes)
  • The Hidden Half by Michael Blastland (3%, 2 Votes)
  • Maths on the Back of an Envelope by Rob Eastaway (3%, 2 Votes)
  • The Maths of Life and Death by Kit Yates (3%, 2 Votes)
  • Here Come the Numbers by Kyle D Evans and Hana Ayoob (1%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 77

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