The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win In Vegas, And Survive A Zombie…

Paperback | August 31, 2010

byJennifer Ouellette

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Kiss My Math meets A Tour of the Calculus

Jennifer Ouellette never took math in college, mostly because she-like most people-assumed that she wouldn't need it in real life. But then the English-major-turned-award-winning-science-writer had a change of heart and decided to revisit the equations and formulas that had haunted her for years. The Calculus Diaries is the fun and fascinating account of her year spent confronting her math phobia head on. With wit and verve, Ouellette shows how she learned to apply calculus to everything from gas mileage to dieting, from the rides at Disneyland to shooting craps in Vegas-proving that even the mathematically challenged can learn the fundamentals of the universal language.

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From the Publisher

Kiss My Math meets A Tour of the Calculus Jennifer Ouellette never took math in college, mostly because she-like most people-assumed that she wouldn't need it in real life. But then the English-major-turned-award-winning-science-writer had a change of heart and decided to revisit the equations and formulas that had haunted her for ye...

Jennifer Ouellette is a card-carrying member of the National Association of Science Writers. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Discover, Salon, and Nature. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Cal Tech cosmologist Sean Carroll.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8 × 5.4 × 0.7 inPublished:August 31, 2010Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143117378

ISBN - 13:9780143117377

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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Worth reading I liked The Calculus Diaries but I wished it lived up to my expectations. For example, I wished that novel examples were used rather than, once again, re-hashing the story of Cholera and the pump-handle in 19th C London. Yes, it is a good example in the history of epidemiology but I want another exciting example. And, I wished that digressions didn't depart too far from the intended path. At times, I began to wonder if we would ever return to calculus.
Date published: 2011-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quite Lively, Informative and Totally Painless The ever-growing library of books written to explain basic mathematical concepts to those who are math phobic is sure to welcome this entertaining new entry. In a book with a front cover that includes a calculus formula, a vector diagram and a title and subtitle that include the words “calculus” and “math”, respectively, one might expect to see some formulas and calculation on almost every page. Not in this case. Although, near the beginning of the book, the author briefly explains the nature of calculus, when it is used and a bit on the mechanics of doing actual calculations, these explanations are in words through hand-waving arguments and not with the use of potentially-intimidating mathematical symbols. Most of the book is devoted to exploring various real-world situations where calculus could (but doesn’t always have to) be used, e.g., travelling, gambling, amusement park rides, economics, the spread of epidemics, losing weight, surfing, etc. In most of these cases, arguments are made as to ‘why’ and a bit of ‘how’ calculus could be used; however, no detailed calculations are presented. Also, peppered throughout, there are a great many pertinent historical snippets that are not only quite entertaining but also helpful in putting some of the concepts into context. Most of the hard core formulas, diagrams and calculus techniques are relegated to the appendices at the back of the book. The writing style is lively, very friendly, enormously accessible, entertaining and quite captivating. Those who are the most math-phobic should be able to read this book easily and enjoy it thoroughly – at least most of it. Although the book is aimed at those who fear math, it can also be enjoyed by any general reader. It should also be great fun for history buffs and math buffs, although the latter may find the detailed explanations on how to do the calculations to be a bit boring.
Date published: 2010-09-16

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Editorial Reviews

"If, like me, you love the neatness of calculus but never appreciated its applications or the colourful characters who have used it through history, then these diaries are well worth a read." -New Scientist "In The Calculus Diaries, science writer Jennifer Ouellette makes maths palatable using a mix of humour, anecdote and enticing facts...Using everyday examples, such as petrol mileage and fairground rides, Ouellette makes even complex ideas such as calculus and probability appealing." -Nature "This dash through a daunting discipline bursts with wry wit. Ouellette uses differential equations to model the spread of zombies, and derivatives to craft the perfect diet. Sassy throughout, she reserves special barbs for subprime mortgage holders: "Chances are they weren't doing the math." -Discover "The Calculus Diaries is a great primer for anyone who needs to get over their heebie-jeebies about an upcoming calculus class, or for anyone who's ever wondered how calculus fits into everyday life and wants to be entertained, too!" -Danica McKellar, New York Times bestselling author of Math Doesn't Suck and Hot X: Algebra Exposed "I haven't had this much fun learning math since I watched The Count on 'Sesame Street' when I was three. And the Count never talked about log flumes or zombies. So The Calculus Diaries wins the day." -AJ Jacobs, author of The Know-it-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World "Zombies? Surfing? Gambling? Nobody told me calculus could be like this. To my twelfth-grade math teacher: I demand a do-over!" -Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex and The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution "Back in the day, when I was close to flunking out of calculus class because I couldn't understand why it was worth my valuable time to actually understand it, I needed someone like Jennifer Ouellette to gently explain how I wrong I was. She's like every English major's dream math teacher: funny, smart, infected with communicable enthusiasm, and she can rock a Buffy reference. In this book, she hastens the day when more people are familiar with an integral function than with Justin Bieber." -Peter Sagal, host, NPR's "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me," and author of The Book of Vice "In this wonderful and compulsively readable book, Jennifer Ouellette finds the signature of mathematics -- and especially calculus, of course -- in the most unexpected places, the gorgeously lunatic architecture of Spain's Antonio Gaudi, the shimmering arc of waves on a beach. Just following her on the journey is the half the fun. But the other half is learning about the natural beauty and elegance of calculations. Ouellette's ever clear and always stimulating voice is a perfect match to the subject - and The Calculus Diaries is a tour de force." -Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York "As amusing as it is enlightening, The Calculus Diaries is no dry survey of abstractions. It's a guide to everyday life -- to car trips and roller- coaster rides, diet and exercise, mortgages and the housing bubble, even social networking. As Ouellette modestly recounts her own learning curve, she and her husband become characters alongside eccentrics such as Newton and Gaudi and William the Conqueror. Like a great dance teacher, Ouellette steers us so gently we think we're gliding along on our own." -Michael Sims, author of Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form "Jennifer Ouellette's calculus confessional is a delight, and an example of the finest kind of science writing. Her book reveals to its readers the gritty inner workings of the most important idea humans have ever thought. (Yes, calculus is that big: it's all about understanding how things change in space and time, and there just isn't much more important than that.) Ouellette's wit, her elegant wielding of metaphor, and her passion for both math and funky culture produce this crucial insight: every equation tells a story, she says, and she's right, and the tales she tells here will captivate even the most math-phobic." -Tom Levenson, author of Newton and the Counterfeiter "Like the movies Batman Begins, Spider-Man, or Superman, The Calculus Diaries is the story of how an insightful, creative, and hard-working young person acquires superpowers and uses them for the benefit of society. Only this tale is true: Jennifer Ouellette can't fly or spin a web, but she can spin a yarn. The Calculus Diaries documents the author's seduction by mathematics and her conquering of it--Eureka!--to see the world with sharper vision. For too many people math, calculus in particular, is an albatross. But Ouellette reveals math for what it is, a powerful tool for solving problems and the exquisite language we use to describe nature. Reading this book will make you smarter. And more powerful." -Eric Roston, author of The Carbon Age "If you ever thought that math was useless, read this book. Want to survive a zombie attack? Win at craps? Beat a zombie at craps? Well, listen to Jennifer Ouellette. The math she describes might just be your best hope if you don't want your brains to be gobbled by the undead." -Charles Seife, author of Zero: Biography of a Dangerous Idea "A charming and gentle introduction to important mathematical concepts and their relevance to everyday life." -Leonard Mlodinow, author of The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives