Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities
By Ian Stewart
Review by Dominic (Mathematics MMath)
Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities is a book about… well, exactly what the title sounds like. Professor Ian Stewart, a Fellow at Warwick University and bearer of the Royal Society’s Michael Faraday Medal has a knack for retelling difficult concepts in maths in a very succinct and comprehensible manner, exactly in the way a teenager can understand. In this book, Professor Stewart recounts various mathematical topics from his Cabinets, his maths notebooks that he has kept from the age of 14. In my opinion, the chapters in Professor Stewart’s book, ranging from short puzzles to mini essays capture the fun and interesting side of maths so that everyone can enjoy it.
My particular favourites are the sections on Hilbert’s Hotel, dealing with infinity and countability of sets, and the Riemann Hypothesis, which is a famous unsolved problem in mathematics. His chatty style makes these sections very easy to read and understand, even though he explains concepts not usually covered until university! Looking back at the book now, I realise how wide the range of topics is: number theory, geometry, topology, probability and statistics, chaos theory, maths-themed jokes, and much, much more. Speaking of jokes, do you know why the chicken crossed the Möbius Strip? (Find out in the book!)
Would I recommend you read it? Absolutely! This book has almost single-handedly provided me with a massive background knowledge of mathematics — not just famous problems and concepts but also logical puzzles and brainteasers. I have noticed already that so many of these topics have turned up in my first term at university, and I would not at all be surprised if they continue to do so throughout my maths degree. I would also highly recommend keeping maths notebooks of your own. That way, you can find areas of maths you really love and keep notes on them and research them, highly valuable skills for your time at university. And who knows, perhaps you’ll be able to publish them in a book one day!
Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities by Ian Stewart
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Published: 16 November 2023