Mathematics

The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

George Gamow introduced me to Monte Carlo methods in a chapter of "One Two Three Infinity" (Hal's Pick of April, 2001) that I first read when I was about twelve. His vivid description and witty illustration of the path of a staggering drunk comes clearly to mind even these many decades later, and it surely inspired my research on a number of projects.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Like Malcolm Gladwell s Tipping Point , Nassim Taleb s Black Swan threatens to become a permanent part of the lexicon. In this best-selling book, he makes the argument that evolution has prepared us to over-emphasize continuous, Gaussian relationships because they occur much more frequently than do rare but momentous, unpredictable events.

A Mathematician at the Ballpark: Odds and Probabilities for Baseball Fans

Back in the 1960's, I was captivated by "Percentage Baseball" by Earnshaw Cook. Now long out of print and a collector's item, this book was a forerunner of the "science" of SABRmetrics (after the Society for American Baseball Research) that refers to the scientific (statistical) evaluation of the game.

The Odds of That

When nearly a dozen scientists, all in some way associated with research on biotechnology, die within a year of the 9/11 attacks, can it be coincidence? Yes, says Lisa Belkin, author of this excellent article on one of the constants of pseudoscience, the attribution of "cause" to random events.

The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer

I have to admit that I haven't finished reading this book. With over six hundred, large-format pages and relatively small type, it would probably not have made "Hal's Picks" until next year if I had waited until I had completed it. However, it is entirely possible to dip in for a chapter here and a chapter there.

Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem

In about 1637, a French mathematical genius named Pierre de Fermat wrote in the margin of his copy of Arithmetica by Pythagorus, that he could prove that there were no solutions to the simple variation on Pythagorus' Theorem, az + bz = czwhen a, b, and c are integers and z is larger than two.