Yes, I know, I’m not very good at this hiatus thing. But there is important news that needs to be promulgated widely — the news of calculus. No more will innocent citizens cower in fear at the thought of derivatives and integrals, or flash back in horror to the days of terror and confusion in high-school math class. Because now there is a cure for these maladies — The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse.
Yes, you read that subtitle correctly. Let’s be clear: this book is probably not for you. That’s because you, I have no doubt, already love calculus. You carry a table of integrals in your back pocket, and you practice substituting variables to while away the time in the DMV. This isn’t the book for people who already appreciate the austere beauty of a differential equation, or even for people who want to study up for their AP exam.
No, this is the book for people who hate math. It’s for people who look at you funny and turn away at parties when you mention that you enjoy science. It’s for your older relatives who think you’re crazy for appreciating all that technical stuff, or your nieces and nephews who haven’t yet been captivated by the beauty of mathematics. The Calculus Diaries is the book for people who need to be convinced that math isn’t an intimidating chore — that it can be fun.
Know anybody like that? Any gift-giving holidays coming up?
Now it’s true, I know the author. In fact, I appear as a character in the book (to a certain degree of comic effect). I’m the one who gets soaked when we ride Splash Mountain at Disneyland, but also the one who maximizes his winnings at craps by clever betting in Vegas. You get the idea: this isn’t a textbook, it’s a tour through the real world (and occasional fantasy worlds), pointing out that math is all around us, and that perceiving it is kind of cool.
When you understand math, how you think about the world changes. Every day, we all change position by accumulating velocity, or do informal optimization problems when making a decision. But most people don’t know about the wonderful insights that math can add to these processes. You know, because you are a mathphile. But you are outnumbered by the mathphobes. You have a secret that they don’t know, but now there’s a way to share it. What are you waiting for?