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A Mathematical Nature Walk

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  • Posted January 2, 2010

    A very special and unique math book!

    The author's previous book, Mathematics in Nature: Modeling Patterns in the Natural World got a great review in the June/July 2005 Notices of the AMS (a publication of the American Mathematical Society, it is one of the most prestigious math journals in the country).The last sentence of the review states: "On Growth and Form (D'Arcy Thompson) is a classic; Mathematics in Nature has the potential to become one too."
    He recently published his third book A Mathematical Nature Walk and it is a gem. First I'll quote from the front flap. "How tall is that tree? How far away is that cloud and how heavy is it? Why are the droplets on that spider's web spaced apart so evenly? ." John Adam presents ninety-six questions about many natural phenomena. and then shows how to answer them using mostly basic mathematics. Can you weigh a pumpkin just by looking at it?"
    This book is less technical than Mathematics in Nature, mostly pre calculus, and some very basic calculus and simple differential equations. There's more than enough information on each of the levels. When I showed the book to my calculus students they got very excited, some said that they were going to buy it as soon as possible!
    At my college, for the past twenty years or so, I gave good students the opportunity to contract with me to do honors work and get honors credit for the course. This would entail doing a project, relevant to the course, not necessarily more difficult, but of interest to the student and not "run of the mill". No matter whether it was pre calculus or calculus I always had trouble finding appropriate topics. I wish I had this book years ago.
    Other topics of interest.. Can the shape of an egg be modeled trigonometrically? algebraically? by calculus? by geometry? How far away is the storm? How high can a tree grow? Why do some trees have tumors? How long will it take the sun to collapse? His style is conversational. 'Why can haystacks explode if they're too big?' is quintessential John Adam!
    I would say that this book will become a classic. I am beginning my forty sixth year of teaching and have taught at all levels from 8th grade pre-Algebra to graduate level mathematical physics. If I were an education administrator for high school math teachers (I taught high school math in New York City for thirteen years), I would mandate it as required reading. It should be a text for a course for budding math teachers. It would show the novice high school teacher and, of course, the veteran, how relatively easy math can have real life applications unlike those dumb word problems they teach in the traditional courses. I believe John Adam's book will ultimately be ranked on the same level as Polya's classic, How to Solve It.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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