Book review: Riot at the Calc Exam and Other Mathematically Bent Stories

You’ve heard the story of Rumpled Stiltsken, right? You know, the one where the topologist’s daughter is locked in the grad student lounge and forced to turn coffee into theorems by morning? …what’s that, you say you haven’t heard that one? Funny, I thought everyone knew that story. Well, it’s a fascinating and sobering tale full of insight into life and the nature of… oops, wait, those were my notes for The Kite Runner. Rumped Stiltsken is… well, just read it, OK?

Colin Adams entertains us with this and many other humorously mathematical (mathematically humorous?) stories in his new book, Riot at the Calc Exam and Other Mathematically Bent Stories. Tips on how to avoid RERI (Repetitive Eye Roll Injury), advice from a mathematical ethicist, stories about everyone’s favorite Principal Investigator, Dirk Mangum, P. I., a transcript from the hit radio show Math Talk with Plug and Chug… the list goes on. Some are funnier than others, of course (by the end, the conceit of anthromorphizing/metaphorizing mathematical theorems and the process or proving them had gotten particularly old), but on balance my Funny-o-Meter was definitely pointing somwhere between “amusing” and “hilarious”. This book would make a great gift for that special person in your life who likes to read funny stories about math while they are in the bathroom, or for anyone who likes reading funny stories about math in general, or anyone who likes funny stories, or who likes math. This book would not make a good gift for grumpy people who hate math. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Full disclosure: the AMS kindly sent me a free review copy of this book. Also, Colin Adams was actually one of my professors in college, which you might think would make me somewhat biased, which is probably true, but it also means that I happen to know that he really is quite funny, and also that he is the Fastest Draw(er of 3D surfaces with colored chalk) in the West(ern Massachusetts). Also also, this morning for breakfast I ate a bowl of shredded wheat cereal.

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About Brent

Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Hendrix College. Functional programmer, mathematician, teacher, pianist, follower of Jesus.
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