Employing intuitive ideas from mathematics, this quirky "meta-memoir" raises questions about our lives that most of us don't think to ask but arguably should: What part of memory is reliable fact, what part creative embellishment? Which favorite presuppositions are unfounded, which statistically biased? By conjoining two opposing mind-sets - the suspension of disbelief required in storytelling and the skepticism inherent in the scientific method - best-selling mathematician John Allen Paulos has created an unusual hybrid, a composite of personal memories and mathematical approaches to reevaluating them.
Entertaining vignettes from Paulos's biography abound - ranging from a bullying math teacher and a fabulous collection of baseball cards to romantic crushes, a grandmother's petty larceny, and his quite unintended role in getting George Bush elected president in 2000. These vignettes serve as springboards to many telling perspectives: Simple arithmetic puts lifelong habits in a dubious new light; higher-dimensional geometry helps us see that we're all rather peculiar; nonlinear dynamics explains the narcissism of small differences cascading into very different siblings; logarithms and exponentials yield insight on why we tend to become bored and jaded as we age; and there are tricks and jokes, probability and coincidences, and much more.
For fans of Paulos or newcomers to his work, this witty commentary on his life - and yours - is fascinating listening.
If that sounds good to you, go for it! This author is no pro narrator. But his nerdy voice perfectly fits the work. He must have been a real 5-star dweeb in school, which is perfect! Today I am simply wandering around on a cloudy Saturday listening to this, and it is beyond perfect. I am a storyteller (OK, teacher) by trade, and what is more compelling than considering the nature of stories, held up against some (seemingly) incongruous yardsticks of math and philosophy? It casts a trippy light back onto everything, my own narratives to/about myself included. So it sprawls across many subjects, psychology too, which is fine for me.
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Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
Yes, but probably only to my math-educated friends.
What was one of the most memorable moments of A Numerate Life?
References to Bayes Theorem.
How could the performance have been better?
Grover Gardner, or other professional narrators, would have made the experience a lot better.
Any additional comments?
Paulos' "Innumeracy" was a catalyst in my career transition from high-tech development back to the teaching I enjoyed as as grad student. I love his writing style and insight. A mathematical meta-autobiography is wonderfully self-referential.
On the downside:
This might be a hard read for those without mathematics degrees, or at least engineering or similar STEM.
Also, this is a good example of why a professional narrator might just be a better choice than an author-narrator. Grover Gardner would have been a much better choice than Paulos.
Way back when a friend of mine recommended Innumeracy, (I believe) the first(ish) by Dr. Paulos. This work had a profound influence on my life; sure I was good at math, but, not really. I was innumerate, but, at least I had finally realized it.
I bought the audio version of this mostly because that other book I read some 15 years ago wasn't available, if only to show my appreciation to the author.
However, man, once again, the author delivers a critical jolt to my scientific thinking.
If you've come this far, just click "buy" and thank Dr. P later.