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Summary

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.

©2015 John Allen Paulos (P)2015 Gildan Media LLC

Critic reviews

"There's nothing more enlightening than a view of life's nuances as seen through the lens of a mathematician. Especially when that mathematician is John Allen Paulos, a brilliant educator who persistently empowers the reader to think in ways that render transparent much of what is opaque in the world around us." (Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History)

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  • Philo
  • 31-01-16

Nonlinear, nerdy, fun, mind-stretching

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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  • Amazon Customer
  • 26-02-16

Good stuff, but a professional narrator would help

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.

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  • Danny Orlando
  • 09-12-15

The author that got me into science: what a gift

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.