Math in the Media

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Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"How Not to Solve It": Review of The Random Walks of George Polya, byGerald Alexanderson, and Mathematical Fallacies, Flaws, and Flimflam, byEdward J. Barbeau. Reviewed by William J. Thompson. AmericanScientist, September-October 2000, pages 465-466.

The first of the two books under review is a "carefully researched hagiography"of the mathematician George Polya, who is perhaps most famous for his bookHow To Solve It. "Polya emphasized clear understanding and presentationof mathematical proofs," the reviewer writes, so it is appropriate to reviewthe book about him together with a book that discusses erroneous mathematicalresults. Although the reviewer wishes the biography had more analysis ofPolya's methods and less emphasis on chronology and personal details, he writesthat "this is a good book, well worth the price and the time needed to readit." The reviewer also likes the other book and suggests that reading ittogether with Polya's How to Solve It would help one to "understand thepower and pitfalls of Polya's methods."

--- Allyn Jackson