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IWD 2020: Books about Maths by Women

For International Women’s Day, mathematician Lucy Rycroft-Smith has read a selection of maths books by women authors, and recommended some favourites.

There’s a strange irony about being a woman in mathematics. You spend a huge amount of time and energy answering questions about being a woman in mathematics instead of, you know, using that time and energy to do or write about actual maths. We women are somehow both the problem and the solution. 

But behold: 2020 is here, and better and braver women than I have solved this conundrum.  Here are a whole host of excellent books about maths by women that you should definitely read, collected for you by another woman in maths. 

Review: Maths on the Back of an Envelope, by Rob Eastaway

Maths on the Back of an Envelope

A book about mental arithmetic? By Rob Eastaway? Count me in! In my fuzzy mental Euler diagram of topics and authors, Maths On The Back Of An Envelope lies in the intersection of several ‘favourite’ circles.

Perhaps paradoxically, this meant I was expecting to be a little disappointed: how can a book, by an author I admire, on a topic I both love and have Strong Opinions about, live up to what I’d like it to be? Luckily, Eastaway’s writing is excellent, even taking into account that you expect it to be excellent.

Review: The Maths of Life and Death, by Kit Yates

The Maths of Life and Death, by Kit YatesI have two simple rules for deciding whether a popular maths book is Any Good. Firstly: does it teach me something I didn’t know? And secondly: does it entertain me when treading ground I’m familiar with?

Review: How To Fall Slower Than Gravity, by Paul J Nahin

How To Fall Slower Than Gravity - book cover

The cover text says How to Fall… is “more than a puzzle book”, which is roughly how I was planning to describe it: twenty-six questions that require an element of mathematical or physical thought, followed by solutions in the obvious bijection.

Puzzle books, for me, are hit and miss – I’ve had a steady diet of pop-maths puzzles for the last three decades, and I’m cynical and jaded enough to expect a book of such things to be of little interest: either I’ve seen most of them before, or I’m just not interested in the topics at hand. Nahin’s book is something like an enthusiastic rookie that shakes me out of my cynicism.

Review: Humble Pi, by Matt Parker

Humble Pi - book cover

There are many things I admire about Matt Parker (or, to give him his full title, Friend of the Aperiodical, Mathematician Matt Parker) and his work, but probably top of the list is how he switches, apparently effortlessly, between modes. One minute, he’s showing off a fax machine to a group of hard-core geeks with Festival of the Spoken Nerd; the previous, he’s inspiring a “lively” bottom set of year 9s, after putting together a Numberphile video for people somewhere in between.

While Humble Pi – A Comedy Of Maths Errors is pitched firmly at the last of those groups – for a popular maths book to hit the top of the Sunday Times bestseller list, it really needs to be – there’s plenty in it for the others.

Review: You Can’t Polish a Nerd, Floppy Disk #211 (Festival of the Spoken Nerd)

“You Can’t Polish a Nerd” is the latest in a run of live stage shows from science/maths comedy trio Festival of the Spoken Nerd. Consisting of friends of the Aperiodical Matt Parker, Steve Mould and Helen Arney, FOTSN is a mixture of comedy, science, music and live demos, and they’ve sent us a copy of their latest show to review.

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