“Mathematics rightly viewed, possesses not only truth but supreme beauty.” Bertrand Russell, British polymath
This entertaining and enlightening book is the perfect summer read for anyone interested in the underpinnings of mathematics as well as artificial intelligence. The author, Jordan Ellenberg, like very few others, is an expert in a technical domain as well as an exceptional writer who gifted us with this paean to mathematics. This mathematician-author combination renders this book (as well as his last book How Not to Be Wrong) both educational and fascinating to read.
The chapters and topics range widely from Fibonacci sequence to Euclidean geometry, and even include a timely robust discussion on the mathematical aspects of COVID-19 (along with discussions on disease and epidemic modeling). One of my favorite chapters is Artificial Intelligence as Mountaineering, in which he masterfully elucidates difficult concepts (at least to AI novices) such as gradient descent and local optimum. I think this chapter alone is almost worth the price of the book as he explains these AI concepts and many others such as algorithms (including Google’s search algorithm), dimensionality, machine learning, Markov chains, and eigenvalues with such lucidity and finesse.
Like most exceptional technical writers, Ellenberg is exceedingly adept at being a storyteller with humor and wit, and often in a historical context. Almost every mathematical concept he presents is explained as an enthralling story; he seems to be able to write quite a few of these gems for this book (one feels akin to a diner at a dim sum or tapas restaurant). My only constructive criticism is the oddity of having hand-drawn figures in this book but perhaps others will find this charming and personal.
Overall, the stories are sufficiently short so that anyone can go for a quick swim or walk on the beach between these stories without missing the overall flow of this magical mathematical tapestry.