Like many students over the years, I have, in my time, decried math as “boring” and “pointless” but no more! In Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors, comedian and former math teacher Matt Parker shows not only the sometimes hilarious results of real-world mathematical errors but also the awesome things that are built with math, including this website. Programming and computer engineering are some of Parker’s primary loves, but he also provides a great introduction to basic engineering concepts.
Parker’s mathematical examples are fascinating from bridge design to airplane crashes. He provides thorough explanations about the Wobbly Bridge in London (also known as the Millenium Bridge) that moved as soon as pedestrians began to use it upon opening in 2000. The bridge began wobbling from side to side and had to be closed before it collapsed. He recounts a similar episode that occurred in Washington state in the 1940s when the Galloping Gertie bridge did collapse. Parker treats issues that have been fixed such as the Wobbly Bridge with humor but fall into seriousness when discussing how the Washington bridge could have seriously injured people.
Sometimes the humor isn’t the most original. Much like in the title, Parker’s jokes rely on a steady stream of either puns or pop culture references. He reverts a little to that teacher making lame jokes to make learning fun. However, there are a few good reasons for this. He points out in the introduction that explaining why humor is funny is difficult and also boring. He leaves a lot of jokes out there for math nerds that go right over the rest of our heads.
Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Error provides a gateway into the fun applications of math to the majority of us who tried to scrape by it as quickly as possible. However, Parker does not present himself as superior in any way. Far from it, he points out that mathematicians make more errors than most other people because part of the fun of doing math is correcting your own mistakes. In fact, most mathematical errors are either imperceptible or small enough to be covered up easily. And to prove his point, he filled a book with situations where errors stacked on top of one another until they became hilariously obvious. Whenever white elephant gifts are a thing again, Humble Pi definitely makes my go-to list.
Three out of four stars