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Review: The Mathematics of Love

This is a review of The Mathematics of Love: Patterns, Proofs and the search for the Ultimate Equation by Hannah Fry, a new book which Katie was sent an advance copy of.

Hannah Fry: The Mathematics of Love (Hardcover)

3rd February 2015 (hardcover); Simon & Schuster/TED

Hannah Fry, who’s a lecturer and public engagement fellow at UCL, has written a book. Following a TEDx talk she gave last spring, Hannah was invited by TED to be one of 12 speakers who got the chance to put their ideas into book form. Her topic was the mathematics of love, and the result is this collection of mathematical stories and techniques for navigating the world of romance, from choosing a partner to keeping hold of one.

It’s not a huge book – Fry herself describes it as ‘[not] exactly War and Peace’ in the acknowledgements – but I still found out plenty of things I didn’t already know. It covers a good range of topics, and goes into a decent amount of depth – enough to pique your interest, and with detailed and well-chosen references for anyone keen to find out more. More complicated mathematical clarifications are tucked away in footnotes, meaning the text can get on with telling the story in an engaging, and often funny, way.

Popular maths book aficionados will find some well-worn examples (the prisoner’s dilemma and the secretary problem, to name a couple), but they’re introduced with wit and charm, and Hannah acknowledges the shortcomings of such models in dealing with real-world scenarios – giving an idea of the ways in which they break down, and emphasising that these models are merely something we can use as a rough guide to how things really behave.

“My great hope is that a little bit of insight into the mathematics of love might just inspire you to have a little bit more love for mathematics.”

The book is stuffed with enjoyable examples, and touches on a range of areas of maths – game theory, networks, probability and estimation among others – while sticking always to the theme of love and romance, in a witty and inclusive way.

It’s also a quite nice object in hardback, with a pretty geometric/symmetric patterns of hearts on the cover (two versions exist, both nice), and each chapter is accompanied by a full two-page illustration which playfully summarises the theme, be it online dating or wedding planning.

This would make an ideal gift for lovers of maths, and mathsy lovers – and considering the release date, a spectacular Valentine’s day present. Or, if you’re not currently “studying the two-body problem”, get one for yourself.

More information

Hannah’s TEDx talk on The Mathematics of Love

Hannah is @FryRSquared on Twitter

The Mathematics of Love on the publisher’s website

Hannah’s website

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