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Peter R. Orszag

Math + Statistics = Great Beach Reading

Jordan Ellenberg’s "How Not to Be Wrong" shows how mathematics and statistics help us understand the world better -- in a way that skips the formalities and allows everyone to follow the argument.
What's the probability of me ordering another mai tai?
What's the probability of me ordering another mai tai?

If you have a vacation coming up in August and you're looking for a fun book to read that will also enlighten you, it would be hard to beat Jordan Ellenberg's "How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking." Ellenberg, a math professor at the University of Wisconsin, shows how mathematics and statistics help us understand the world better -- but does so in a way that skips the formalities and allows everyone to follow the argument. And the lessons are powerful.

Here's an example. During World War II, the U.S. military was trying to optimize the armor plating on its airplanes. Officials noticed that the bullet holes in planes returning from combat in Europe followed certain patterns: There were more per square foot in the fuselage than in the engine section. They figured that they therefore needed to add more protection to the fuselage, but wanted help in determining how much more -- to balance the extra protection against the loss of fuel efficiency and maneuverability.