“How Math Can Save Your Life” aims to show how mathematics can play a role in day to day decision making. Aimed at the non-mathematically inclined, it uses only arithmetic, but introduces simple probability theory, statistics, and game theory.

The author, James Stein, a professor of mathematics at California State, Long Beach, has a secondary goal of improving mathematics education in high schools (mostly by de-emphasizing algebra and going back to useful basics).

Each of the 14 chapters explains how math can help achieve some end : improve your grades, win arguments, fix the economy, gamble, etc. And each chapter is illustrated with 3 or 4 examples. He does a good job of keeping the mathematics dead simple, introducing only what is needed to solve the problem at hand, and building on earlier ideas.

For those with any math background beyond high school there is nothing really new here, though some of his examples are interesting. I see this as useful mostly for high school students and math-averse adults. His treatment of game theory as a decision making tool is very useful, as is his treatment of probabilities.

My only serious complaint about this book is the author’s right-wing bias. His analysis of the great recession (i.e. the recession we are currently experiencing) is founded on an incorrect analysis - the Rush Limbaugh analysis, to be exact. Specifically he places the root cause on the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. He offers no explanation why that law caused no problems for nearly 30 years. He goes on to claim that the requirement, beginning in early 90s, that Fannie and Freddie devote a (small) percentage of their lending to affordable housing, played another part in the crisis that took place 16 years later. At no point does he mention the repeal of Glass-Steagal - the law that had kept commercial and investment banks separate. Nor does he mention the outright frauds committed by Goldman and other mega-banks, AIG, or the sleazy mortgage broker industry that made enormous profits from ‘liar loans’. In short, he takes the pure right-wing line on this issue (and on others).

Nonetheless, if you can ignore the right-wing bias, and feel the need for better decision making in your day to day life, this may be the right book for you.



Book cover

Metadata Info

  • Title: How Math Can Save Your Life: (And Make You Rich, Help You Find The One, and Avert Catastrophes)
  • Author: James D. Stein
  • Published: 2010
  • ISBN: 0470437758
  • Buy: Amazon search
  • Check out: Seattle library
  • Rating: 3.0 stars