Is Maths Real? How Simple Questions Lead Us to Mathematics’ Deepest Truths by Eugenia Cheng

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The author presents a set of excellent and accessible descriptions and explanations of the ideas and meanings of mathematical argument. She takes the next step and shows how many mathematical approaches can be applied to areas in which you would not normally expect to find application. Demonstrates that math is not only real but insightful.

In that way it is a very good work.

I stopped reading the half way through because I became annoyed to the point of distraction by the political and social agenda interlaced in the book.

By way of illustration, she spends several pages building a solid argument for rigour in mathematical statements. Her explanation is excellent and brings the reader along quite effortlessly to some fundamental insights with broad utility. She is an exceptional communicator. However, what follows is a few paragraphs of unsupported statements and ambiguous labeling of types of people. In this latter part, she is at best inconsistent in language and arbitrary in the labels she uses. This is in stark contrast to the earlier part of the chapter.

In another place she complains about students challenging her and makes a blanket statement about how student challenges are more common for her due to her gender and race. Others have experienced what she describes who did not have the same labels. The experience could be as due to being a young lecturer with unenthusiastic, or perhaps overly confident, audiences as it is about the particular lecturer.

In still another place she uses an an example set the types of privilege one racial group has. The internal logic of the arbitrary types is correct. The choice of the category types and the language used is from a specific social perspective and detracts from her good mathematical point.

If she wants to write a book about social issues she should do so. Given her ability to communicate about how to think well it might prove an insightful work. If she is going to insert a political argument into a book on maths my strong suggestion is to treat all her arguments with the same rigour.

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