Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World

Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World
Parker, Matt
4 stars = Really Good

Growing up, I was never the type of kid who complained to my math teacher with the common saying, "When am I going to use this in real life?" Instead, I was always trying to find the weird and fantastical things that made math interesting. Unfortunately, many people get to adulthood and work on important engineering projects having probably asked that "real life" question at some point in their past. Humble Pi is a collection of many such stories of when math goes wrong in real life.

I can appreciate how Parker formatted this book to poke fun at some of the common math errors that have led to real-world situations. Things like the page numbers counting backward, the chapter numbers being poorly rounded, or that there are 314 pages in a book with "Pi" in the title are not lost on me. I had heard of many of these amusing anecdotes about math, but learned plenty of new ones that gave me a good chuckle as simple oversights nearly led to disasters.

My only qualm with Humble Pi is the tonal whiplash of the stories. It's hard to keep laughing about mathematical foibles when every third story is how an error led to the deaths of hundreds of people. These stark reminders of the importance of checking and double checking our calculations were quite sobering. But when the very next story is making light of a fairly innocuous mistake in a jocular manner, it feels a little disrespectful of the people who lost their lives in the previous story (or the next one). Either way, this is an important book to read if you've ever wondered what "real life" math can (and can't) do.

Some amusing and sobering examples of "real life" mathematics, I give Humble Pi 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name
Benjamin W.