David Darling is an astronomer, science writer, and musician based in Dundee. Agnijo Banerjee is currently studying maths at Trinity College, Cambridge. Weirdest Maths (Amazon UK, Waterstones) is their third book about weird maths.
Each chapter of Weirdest Maths takes the reader on a journey through a different area of life where lots of maths is used. These include code-breaking, sport, and space.
I’m not a fan of the first chapter of this book. This chapter is called “Genius” and looks at some of history’s mathematical stars and asks what made them geniuses. Sadly, the chapter perpetuates some myths about great mathematicians being lone geniuses that were born with a great talent, and frankly left me feeling like I wasn’t enough of a genius to be a real mathematician (which is absurd—I am a real mathematician).
By my count, 54 people are mentioned in the “Genius” chapter. 54 of these people are men. So this chapter perpetuates the even worse myth that in order to be a great mathematician you must be male.
If you somehow still need convincing that this isn’t true, you can read Chalkdust’s interviews with Ulrike Tillmann, Christina Pagel, Trachette Jackson, Eugenia Cheng, or Hannah Fry, or our biographies of Pamela H Harris, Katherine Johnson, Sophie Bryant, Maryam Mirzakhani, Florence Nightingale or Mary Somerville.
Or you could some of our article written by great women authors including Madeleine Hall, Kimi Chen, Ellen Jolley, Sophie Maclean, Sam Hartburn, Mara Kortenkamp, Erin Henning and Anna Maria Hartkopf, Yuliya Nestarova, Paula Rowinska, Zoe Griffiths, Emma Bell, Tai-Danae Bradley, Dominika Vasilkova, Lulu Beatson, Vicky Neale, Huda Ramli, Nikoleta Kalaydzhieva, and Katie Steckles.
If you still need convincing you can look at any of the many more women mathematicians of history, including Sophie Germain, Emmy Noether, Sofya Kovalevskaya, Olga Ladyzhenskaya, Ada Lovelace, Marjorie Lee Browne, Euphemia Haynes, Julia Robinson, Grace Hopper, Gladys West, Hypatia, Charlotte Scott, Philippa Fawcett, and Susan Brown. Or any of the great women mathematicians working today, including Ingrid Daubechies, Susanne Brenner, Ruth Lawrence, Sarah Zerbes, Sara Zahedi, Marie Rognes, Ann Dowling, Frances Kirwan, Alice Rogers, Gwyneth Stallard, Helen Byrne, Ruth Gregory, Deepika Garg, Angelika Manhart, Helen Wilson, and Karen Uhlenbeck.
It feels like I named an awful lot of people, it’s 54. Hopefully that makes it clear that the “Genius” chapter of Weirdest Maths mentions a lot of men.
(For the record, I am a man, and if my main takeaway from the chapter is just how imbalanced it is, then it probably is really bad.)
Thankfully, from the second chapter onwards, Weirdest Maths focusses more on maths than people, and I enjoyed reading many of the later chapters (once I’d taken a break to forget about “Genius”).
The chapters of this book (after the first) give nice overviews of topics that entire books could be written on: in fact, there are pop maths books out that do indeed look at the maths contained in just one chapter of this book.
If you do read this one, I recommend skipping the first chapter and starting with the much better second chapter on sport. I’ve not read them yet, but David and Agnijo’s first two books (Weird Maths and Weirder Maths) might be better books, as I imagine they also contain interesting maths chapters, without the “Genius” chapter.
You can vote for your favourite book on the Book of the Year shortlist below. The winning book will be crowned the Chalkdust Readers’ Choice. Voting closes at 5pm (BST) on Saturday 16 April.
What is your favourite book on the 2021 Book of the Year shortlist?
- Maths Tricks to Blow Your Mind by Kyle D Evans (50%, 11 Votes)
- How To Think About Abstract Algebra by Lara Alcock (23%, 5 Votes)
- Math Without Numbers by Milo Beckman (9%, 2 Votes)
- Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths by Maisie Chan (9%, 2 Votes)
- How to Read Numbers by Tom Chivers & David Chivers (5%, 1 Votes)
- Weirdest Maths by David Darling and Agnijo Banerjee (5%, 1 Votes)
- At Sixes and Sevens by Rachel Riley (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 22
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