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The Universe And The Teacup

K.C. Cole

The mathematics of truth and beauty. An elegant study of the way maths can provide solutions to everyday problems.

Charles Dickens once proclaimed that he was boycotting the train service for the rest of December “on the grounds that the average annual quota of railroad accidents in Britain had not been filled and therefore further disasters were obviously imminent”.

Dickens was not just literate but numerate as well, and he was well aware of the absurdity of his statement. He was trying to make a point about the general public’s poor understanding of statistics, and it is quite likely that many people thought he was being quite serious and followed his advice until the New Year, when presumably a new quota would begin.

A century later we are increasingly bombarded by statistics, probabilities and averages, and yet our understanding of these numbers is still weak. K. C. Cole’s delightful book is an attempt to explain what numbers mean, and how they are used, abused and misunderstood.

(extract from Simon Singh’s review, Sunday Telegraph, 14 March 1998)