“Kit Yates shows how our private and social lives are suffused by mathematics. Ignorance may bring tragedy or farce. This is an exquisitely interesting book. It’s a deeply serious one too and, for those like me who have little math, it’s delightfully readable.” —Ian McEwan, author of Atonement
“Kit Yates is a natural storyteller. Through fascinating stories and examples, he shows how maths is the beating heart of so much of modern life. An exciting new voice in the world of science communication.” —Marcus du Sautoy, author of The Music of the Primes
From birthdays to birth rates to how we perceive the passing of time, mathematical patterns shape our lives. But for those of us who left math behind in high school, the numbers and figures hurled at us as we go about our days can sometimes leave us scratching our heads and feeling as if we’re fumbling through a mathematical minefield. In this eye-opening and extraordinarily accessible book, mathematician Kit Yates illuminates hidden principles that can help us understand and navigate the chaotic and often opaque surfaces of our world.
In The Math of Life and Death, Yates takes us on a fascinating tour of everyday situations and grand-scale applications of mathematical concepts, including exponential growth and decay, optimization, statistics and probability, and number systems. Along the way he reveals the mathematical undersides of controversies over DNA testing, medical screening results, and historical events such as the Chernobyl disaster and the Amanda Knox trial. Readers will finish this book with an enlightened perspective on the news, the law, medicine, and history, and will be better equipped to make personal decisions and solve problems with math in mind, whether it’s choosing the shortest checkout line at the grocery store or halting the spread of a deadly disease.
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About the Author
Table of Contents
Introduction Almost Everything 1
Chapter 1 Thinking Exponentially: The Sobering Limits of Power 9
Chapter 2 Sensitivity, Specificity, and Second Opinions: How Math Makes Medicine Manageable 39
Chapter 3 The Laws of Mathematics: Investigating the Role of Mathematics in the Law 75
Chapter 4 Don't Believe the Truth: Debunking Media Statistics 109
Chapter 5 Wrong Place, Wrong Time: When Our Number Systems Let Us Down 145
Chapter 6 Relentless Optimization: From Evolution to E-commerce, Life Is an Algorithm 175
Chapter 7 Susceptible, Infective, Removed: How to Stop an Epidemic 209
Epilogue Mathematical Emancipation 243