Westerly Sun Column | A Delicious Assortment of Books on Math
March 13, 2023
Saint Patrick’s Day is right around the corner, and many of us are focused on gathering the ingredients for Corned Beef and Cabbage, planning a trip to the parade, or dying our beer green. In our eagerness to get to the 17th, though, we’re forgetting an (arguably) equally important and largely overshadowed fete: March 14th is Pi Day! It’s a day to celebrate the field of mathematics and the well-known mathematical constant π (which famously begins with 3.14). Surprisingly, the celebration of math can be not only interesting, but delicious!
Now, I struggled through math classes in school and consciously pursued a career path that required me to use almost none of what I barely learned, but I can get behind Pi Day. Many of the celebrations that take place on this day revolve around pies (for obvious reasons), and other circular treats (since the number represents the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter). If you’re like me and don’t care much about mathematical constants, but are a fan of round goodies, you can celebrate in the kitchen with a book like “Art of the Pie” by Kate McDermott. In “How to Bake Pi”, author and professor Eugenia Cheng manages to honor both math and food, using dessert recipes to illustrate mathematical principals.
Shockingly, Cheng is not the only author to make math appealing…there’s a whole collection of pop-math books that are infinitely more interesting than your high school Calculus class. In “Humble Pi”, comedian Matt Parker looks at the many ways math is applied in the real world, and the real-life consequences of simple glitches and miscalculations (which humans are very good at making). “The Joy of X” by Steven Strogatz aims to show readers that – despite thinking we will never use it – math plays an integral role in nearly every aspect of life. Finally, there’s the classic “Here's Looking at Euclid” by Alex Bellos, in which the author travels far and wide, collecting the mysteries, histories, and fascinating anecdotes about math along his way.
There are also novels that celebrate math, or work it into their plotlines. I loved “The Solitude of Prime Numbers” by Paolo Giordano, a book about two misfits who are likened to prime numbers, which are only divisible by one and their self. Melancholy, perhaps, but beautifully written (and translated, as it was originally in Italian)! Another great title is “The Housekeeper and the Professor” by Yōko Ogawa, about a math professor with an injury that left him with only 80 minutes of short-term memory.
If you want more mathematically-adjacent stories, there are plenty to choose from. If you prefer to spend the day eating pie, brushing up on your trigonometry, or delving into a book that has absolutely nothing to do with numbers, we have something for you as well!
By Cassie Skobrak, Adult Services Librarian