Sunday 16 September 2018

Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths

Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths by Eddie Woo (Pan Macmillan) PB RRP $29.99 ISBN 9781760554217

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Much has been written about Eddie Woo, an outstanding teacher of maths at high school level and short-listed as one of the top ten teachers in the world – in fact he is currently a teacher at a Sydney school who has won praise for explaining maths to students through his Woodtube channel, so they overcome their dislike and fear of it.

This is not a conventional book about maths which would normally have more numbers than letters. In fact, there aren’t a lot of numbers in this book. Rather, it is a collection of essays which explain the way maths is used in life. With content headings such as ‘E is a magic number’, ‘killer butterflies’ and ‘twinkle, twinkle, little star’, the book looks at the way in which maths is really all about patterns rather than about numbers. It explains concepts such as how computer works, the golden sequence and the periodic table of numbers. 

In the chapter, ‘Precognition for dummies’ Woo looks at the mathematics of probability and statistics. He looks at its history, citing Sir Francis Galton, a 19th century statistician who designed what came to be called a quincunx, a simple invention which showed the movement of balls in random patterns. Woo says of the results that ‘this is what allows us to effectively predict the future without realising it’, such as estimating the time of a trip accurately.

Woo builds impressive cases for the explanation of maths in our lives, but this is not an easy book to digest if you are simply not interest in the subject. Yes, Woo is enthusiastic in his storytelling, using card tricks, conspiracy theories, teacups and other such phenomena to plead his case. But, unless you are eager to learn about a subject which you disliked with a passion as a student, this book is frankly not likely to be to your taste. In fact, it’s difficult to see who this book would excite and engage. It’s so difficult to break down the barrier!

Probably this book will appeal to maths teachers and university students, but not likely to the public. Certainly not to anyone who is maths-phobic!

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