Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Irrationals

The Irrationals is not good. Don't read it. Okay fellas thanks for your time it's been fun I'll see you in the next review goodbye.

Still here? Huh. Strange. Well, I suppose I could give a bit more information. The Irrationals is written by Julian Havil, and is about the history of irrational numbers (the ones that aren't fractions). If you're not already a huge math person, you will definitely dislike The Irrationals, due to the sheer volume of proofs. Book is like 40% history and 60% proofs. And they've got some serious proofs in there, with elementary calculus and contradictions and the like.

If that was all The Irrationals was, it would be a fine book. A history of the idea of irrationality, including the first proofs that Pi and e are irrational, a proof that Phi is the "most irrational," and other neat goodies, along with some descriptions of what was happening at the time these proofs were discovered. It would be a book meant for math nerds, and as a math nerd I would have enjoyed it. Unfortunately, The Irrationals has another problem that is almost certainly a dealbreaker.

Sometimes, the book is just wrong. It's not that Havil is stating falsehoods, it's that there's sometimes just typos in important places. When reading The Irrationals, you not only have to understand the poorly-explained proofs, you also have to fix mistakes in the proofs so that they make sense. I think anyone who wasn't procrastinating on their review of All The Birds In The Sky would have a hard time getting to the end. I made a list of some of the more serious mistakes I saw, which I'll put in this document, but it'll still be a rough time. Unless you're some kind of math masochist (mathochist?), I recommend staying away from The Irrationals.

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