Read The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse by Jennifer Ouellette Online


Kiss My Math meets A Tour of the Calculus Jennifer Ouellette never took math in college, mostly because she-like most people-assumed that she wouldn't need it in real life. But then the English-major-turned-award-winning-science-writer had a change of heart and decided to revisit the equations and formulas that had haunted her for years. The Calculus Diaries is the fun aKiss My Math meets A Tour of the Calculus Jennifer Ouellette never took math in college, mostly because she-like most people-assumed that she wouldn't need it in real life. But then the English-major-turned-award-winning-science-writer had a change of heart and decided to revisit the equations and formulas that had haunted her for years. The Calculus Diaries is the fun and fascinating account of her year spent confronting her math phobia head on. With wit and verve, Ouellette shows how she learned to apply calculus to everything from gas mileage to dieting, from the rides at Disneyland to shooting craps in Vegas-proving that even the mathematically challenged can learn the fundamentals of the universal language....

Title : The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780143117377
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 333 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse Reviews

  • J.R.
    2018-12-08 01:05

    So OK I'm not the intended audience for this book and that's the major reason I'm stopping reading it. I also found the first chapters pretty awesome and then it kind of degraded. I read over 1/2 of it and I started feeling like it was padded a bit with just lists of things that have nothing to do with calculus or really math at all.The killer item was just a basic "fact" that was tossed it, again for no reason, that was no fact at all and the skeptic in me was really let down and I have to stop now. Just for the record a vomitorium is not a place where Romans go to yak. It's a type of hallway in large venue designed to help clear the venue. A very simple web search was all that was required to get this right.

  • Betsy
    2018-11-16 18:07

    This book is well written and many of her stories are enjoyable, but on the whole it was a disappointment. I loved math as a teenager. I would stay after school with a couple friends to do impromptu math competitions. When I got to college, I initially planned to major in math. But after my third semester of calculus, when I received a grade of “satisfactory” rather than what I was used to, I changed my major to French. I had loved algebra – I just “got it”. And geometry, though it wasn't quite as much fun, made sense to me. But calculus just didn't make sense. I could memorize the formulas and rules and solve most of the problems, but I didn't get it in my gut. I've always regretted that failure.So I jumped at this book, hoping it might give me a chance to redeem myself. Ms. Ouellette did not explain calculus in a way that made me understand it well. I did not have that “mimetic” moment I was so hoping for. To be fair, that was not the author's objective. Rather, she sought to demonstrate how calculus could be used in ordinary life situations. The CBS TV series “Numb3rs” tried to do the same thing (if you can call FBI investigations ordinary life). Neither one of them achieved that objective, although at least the TV show made advanced math and science seem a little bit sexy. After all, no one is going to pause their surfing fun to calculate the wave's rate of change, or delay getting on the roller coaster to first determine it's velocity. Maybe Charlie Epps would use calculus to fight a traffic ticket, but I hardly think that's realistic, much less common. As for the “zombie apocalypse”, well, I enjoyed the lesson in epidemiology, but … come on!Okay, maybe her objective was simply to use real life situations, that we math dummies could understand, to explain how calculus worked. Even that I think was less than successful. I suspect that calculus is something you have to keep working at, in situations where you really do need to use it (e.g. science or statistics), until it either makes sense or becomes so habitual that it doesn't matter. I don't regret reading this book, or even buying it, but I'm not sure I would recommend it to anyone who didn't already understand calculus and might enjoy the offbeat approach to math.[Review August 3, 2011]

  • Ginger K
    2018-11-21 20:15

    What this book is not:1) A diary of the author's attempt to overcome her fear and loathing of calculus (save for the introduction and the epilogue).2) An introduction to calculus.What this book is:1) A list of applications for calculus not unlike Week One of a calculus syllabus or the introduction to a calculus textbook.2) A collection of anecdotes and facts about major figures (and some often overlooked figures and a couple of contemporary interviewees) throughout the history of calculus and physics, plus illustrative events to which calculus could have/should have/had been applied (like the tulip bubble market).I think I was not the audience for the book, despite the catchy title, the charm of the author's writing style and our shared love of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. (I do think I'd like Ouellette's science articles and may end up checking out her other books.) I've already taken calculus and am aware of the variety of practical applications; I just really, really didn't grasp the concepts. So a book that gives only a quick and basic explanation of what a derivative is and then spends nearly 300 pages showing all the things a derivative could be used to find... was more frustrating than illuminating. Especially when the author in the introduction admits that The Complete Idiot's Guide to Calculus was too difficult for her initially and then unironically recommends it in the Appendix for anyone who wants to actually learn any math. This discovery resulted in some flailing around on my part, which led to putting down the book for a couple months before I decided to just power through it anyway, even if I didn't really get the calculus itself. Also, the sine and cosine illustrations? Don't match up correctly. Not helpful, no matter how cute the little sine surfer dude is! (I mainly noticed because waves are the part of physics I'm most comfortable with -- I spent a whole semester on The Physics of Sound in college.) Bad illustrator, no biscuit.

  • Bill
    2018-12-07 21:05

    "We all use Math everyday"The Good: This book is great in that in answers the question, "When are you ever going to use this?" Ouellette presents numerous examples of how Calculus impacts all of our lives. Everything from amusement parks, to rates of (zombie) infections, surfing and driving falls within the realm of calculus. She does a great job in this regard. The epilogue truly explains what her purpose was in writing this book. The point of the book is not to teach you how to do calculus, but rather, to help make connections to real-life phenomena that involve math. The Bad: Chapter 7: Body Heat. To me, this was the weakness chapter in the book. This chapter is ostensibly about the calculus of losing weight and exercise. However, Ouellette does very little actual math. She spends the bulk of the chapter talking about the connection between exercise and generating power (i.e. using treadmills to create electricity). While this is interesting, she fails to bring it back to math. Overall: This book is not intended to teach you math, but to make you interested in learning math. The Calculus Diaries is a primer for people who were intimated by math because they did not realize how it plays into their lives. 4/5 Stars

  • Ro Givens
    2018-11-30 19:58

    I like and agree with Danica McKeller's comment on this book: "This is a great primer for anyone who needs to get over their heebie-jeebies about an upcoming calculus class, or for anyone who's ever wondered how calculus fits into everyday life and wants to be entertained, too!"This isn't a math treatise, it's a not a textbook, so it's not going to satisfy the mathie in you (if one exists in you). At first I thought, "This would make more sense with some symbols and written as a proof," but I eventually got used to the light mathematical discussions and found all the details (some may feel tangents) she explores to be really interesting. If you want to learn some historical context surrounding calculus, get a glimpse at the myriad of interesting subjects that use calculus (whether through mathematical calculations or natural occurences of rates of change), and have a very small introduction to the mathematics of calculus (or if you're my friend and you just want to learn a little more about why I love calculus) - this is a fun and recommended read.

  • Erik
    2018-11-27 22:01

    This book was geared more toward someone without a lot of calculus background, as a sort of preparatory primer. It answers the inevitable question of "When will I ever use this?" asked by so many students who aren't spellbound by the math for its own sake.The trouble is, I *am* spellbound by the math for its own sake, and so I wound up very disappointed that there was hardly any actual calculus in the book at all. What little there is, is stuffed into the Appendices, and is only the absolute basics.I did enjoy reading about some of the various real-world (if you can count 'zombie apocalypse' as real-world) applications of calculus, and the historical background of some of the major players was also very interesting. I definitely am glad that I read it, but I still couldn't help wishing that there had been more actual math included throughout rather than as an afterthought.

  • Patrick Stein
    2018-11-13 18:14

    Quit reading at about page 120. It had some amusing math-history stories, but even pop math books shouldn't mangle the meaning of "density" or "proportional".No, the density of a liter of water is NOT one kilogram.No, the rate at which a cup of coffee cools is NOT proportional to its temperature.In the section about craps, I was able to give her the benefit of the doubt and think she just phrased things awkwardly enough to confuse her, her physicist husband, and her editor. By the middle of Splash Mountain, there was no doubt that she and her editor were oblivious to or fine with her mangling of terms.

  • Olivierco
    2018-11-19 22:12

    Not much math in this book. Actually less than in "Numb3rs" TV Series, which "demonstrates the relevance of mathematics better than any pedagogical method that [the author has] yet encountered." ?!?Mostly (pleasantly written) stories and anecdotes fine for a newspaper or a blog but that don't justify making a book out of them.There is however a good simplified introduction on Fourier transform.

  • Mishehu
    2018-12-01 20:17

    The author is earnest and well intentioned. That gets a necessary caveat out of the way and lessens the slight sense of guilt I feel about panning this book. The author seems like a very decent person...But the book she's written, alas, definitively answers the age-old question: how little math can one feature in a pop math manuscript and still win a publishing contract? Here's what you learn about calculus in this book: it's widely applicable. Check. It deals with rates of change among related variables. Check. There are, of course, volumes (many many potentially fascinating volumes) lurking behind these assertions. The book in review is not one of them. Oullette does the most facile job possible of explicating calculus and its connection to the world, and the examples she selects to highlight these connections -- though legitimate ones -- sound, for the most part, completely forced in her telling.Which brings up perhaps the worst fault of this book: it is as padded as the Michellin man or the interior of a rubber room. At least 2/3 of the book is entirely superfluous (I know a lot more about the author's exercise routine and what her local gym looks like than I have the least interest to know and that has the least relevance to the topic at hand.)With due respect to the author, lastly: I’m delighted she and her husband are happily wedded, and I wish them all happiness. Even so, the repeated references to husband Sean throughout this book which served little purpose other than to humanize the author and her enterprise, on the one hand, and to serve, unnecessarily, as the ‘expert’ foil to contrast with/bulk up her own dilettante bona fides, on the other, grew annoying in the extreme.In closing: certain brief stretches of this book were both interesting and thoughtful, and showcased the author’s talents and potential. But overlong stretches read like they were plucked from Wikipedia and dressed up a bit, and — a worse offense — like they had no obvious reason to show up in a book titled The Calculus Diaries. Beware the endorsement blurbs on the jacket: “If you ever thought that math was useless, read this book” (Seife). “I haven’t had this much fun learning math since... (Jacobs). “It’s a great primer...” (McKellar). Did we read the same book?

  • Ja
    2018-11-23 20:12

    Surprising in a bad way. The start was interesting, the way calculus was applied to the road-trip delightful to read. However the initial interest and explanations faded to a dull listing of other applications, without the same intriguing aspects. Although I finished the book, the end was a strain. In addition, mistakes made me question the effort put into the production of this book.Examples:page 179, Body Heat, 270 "food calories" (or kcal) should definitely be 270,000 calories, NOT as the book writes 27, 251, The Mimetics of Math, the url ( has been improperly formatted as text, resulting in being split, hyphenated and the result not being a useful url.This list is not exhaustive (as I found out reading other reviews here) but it was enough to unsettle me, question author, editor and publisher. It may be enough to read the start and decide for yourself, what you feel about it.

  • Brian Clegg
    2018-11-23 22:15

    Popular maths is a pig to write - much harder than the rest of popular science. Unless you are dealing with one of the glamorous aspects like infinity or Fermat's last theorem, there are two big problems in grabbing a reader's attention. One is that the maths itself can be more than a little impenetrable, and the other is that the applications (if there are any) can seem more like mental doodling than telling us something mind blowing about reality, as is the case with something like physics.Jennifer Ouellette sets out to address both these problems in a very personal take on calculus and its importance to us. She is a self-admitted fearer of calculus, an English graduate for whom it was once all a mystery - but with help from her physicist husband, she sets out to tame this powerful mathematical tool.It's a recipe for a really enjoyable book, and it kind of works. Ouellette takes us on a very personal journey, so there's a lot about her and her husband and their adventures that, if I'm honest I wasn't really particularly interested in. This may be a personal failing - I'm interested in mathematicians and their lives, but I don't really want to know about Ouellette and partner's attempts in a casino or how they pass on little messages to each other at home on a whiteboard. Still, it's certainly true that the approach takes away some of the impersonal scariness of mathematics.When it comes down to the calculus itself, I was in a bit of a quandary. It is a hugely important tool that scientists and engineers resort to all the time - but the actual doing of it is, frankly, a bit tedious and I found the practical working of the maths side of the book both a little dull and also surprisingly opaque - I think I understand calculus, but some of the explanations of its use I found difficult to follow.It's interesting that the bit of the book I enjoyed most, dealing with the application of maths to gambling, really didn't have much to do with calculus at all - it was more about probability. This was good fun and instructive for those who feel they might like a flutter in a casino. In fact there were several chapters where calculus really only got a passing mention, and some were among the better parts of the contents.Overall there's plenty going on here. You'll visit a green gym, find out about calculating the stresses on arches in buildings, explore the maths of personal finance and of surfing. Oh yes, and you'll find out about the way zombies (and other plagues) can spread. Altogether too much about zombies, in fact. Yet it just didn't quite work for me. I wanted to love it, but failed in the attempt.Originally published on (reproduced with permission)

  • Jenn
    2018-12-08 22:04

    Well, for a math book it was pretty good! I read it for extra credit in my Survey of Mathematics class. (Yeah, I needed the extra points! LOL)Ouellette uses a humorous approach, relate-able stories, and history to tell about the practical uses of calculus. Did you know that the process of "balancing" in Algebra was invented more than 1000 years before the equal sign? I was fascinated to learn about Cartesian coordinates, vectors and then how the Mad Tea Party ride works. (It's dueling vectors that make it really fun!) I was also interested by the modeling for infectious disease. Based on the black plague and "Dawn of the Dead", rate of change and derivative calculus, I know we either have to defeat the Zombies right at the start, or hide out at the mall if we hope to survive!Now, if you are a mathy (read-serious math)person. This is probably not the book for you. But, if you've ever wondered how all that dumb math they made you learn is ever going to apply to anything, then you might enjoy this read. I'm also a fan of history, so learning the origin of these ideas was interesting too.

  • Jesse
    2018-11-20 01:04

    This book is a must-read for mathematicians and non-mathematicians alike!For mathematicians, the book gives a recap of your calculus classes in college (calculus 1 and 2, multivariable calculus, and differential equations). You also get to see calculus from a different viewpoint, that of a non-mathematician. For me, the book gave me insight on how to answer the question so often asked by my non-mathy friends: "What do you actually DO with calculus?"For non-mathematicians, the book gives insight on the practical applications of calculus and how it permeates through our lives. The majority of the book focuses on what the math does, without delving too seriously into the processes themselves.

  • Marty
    2018-12-12 17:59

    sorry I got it. this is self-indulgent. a wave look there's math, look there's math. worst non-mathy math book I ever read. She doesn't explain the basic concepts well enough to communicate and waves her hands at the real math even in the appendices. A good editor should have stopped this mess.

  • Rachel
    2018-12-12 20:51

    DNF - For a book that seemed meant to relate calculus to real life there was not nearly enough of the relating of calculus to real life.

  • Carlie George
    2018-12-12 00:55

    I am not a math fan. I did not take calculus in high school. I didn't even take pre-cal. I took Algebra II and was like, "Peace, bitches! I'm out!" I never thought I'd read a book about math for fun.However, I enjoyed another book by Jennifer Ouellette earlier this year, and what with The Calculus Diaries' promise that calculus might help me win in Vegas and survive a zombie apocalypse, I figured I had to give it a go. Ultimately, I liked it well enough, although I can't say I understood all of it and it didn't really instill any desire to delve deeper into the world of mathematics. I do appreciate the idea that math, when actually understood and not instinctually feared/loathed, is another way of looking at the world, that it opens your eyes up to new angles and interpretations. However, I also disagree pretty heavily with the book when it describes scientists' frustration that it's socially acceptable to be utterly ignorant of math, while it's considered shameful to be illiterate, mostly because when they say "utterly ignorant of math," I'm pretty sure they don't mean basic arithmetic. If you couldn't add or subtract at all, I doubt it would be socially acceptable -- you NEED basic arithmetic for everyday function, just like you need basic literacy. It is, of course, more socially acceptable to not like or understand higher forms of math (algebra, geometry, calculus), but that's not on par with being able to read at all; that should be on par with more advanced reading skills, full comprehension and analysis. And since, outside certain circles, people aren't genuinely considered shameful and ignorant if they don't get Moby Dick or The Odyssey, I don't think it's a great argument. (Or, I think there's a lot of shame to go around. I've felt like people have looked down on me before because I suck at math, and I'm sure others have felt looked down upon because they aren't Readers. I did really like how the epilogue spoke about gender prejudices in mathematics.)Anyway. My favorite chapters here were definitely the ones about Vegas, Disneyland, and the plague. I enjoyed a lot of the history here. (The moral of the story really seems to be, if you're the first to discover some crazy mathematical proof, for Christ's sake, PUBLISH IT before someone else gets the credit.) Ouellette's writing is enjoyable, despite tricky subject material, and I'd read more of her stuff -- but even though this is targeted for beginners, some of it is a bit advanced for my understanding. Still, hey, I challenged myself! Yay!And now I can reward myself with Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2. Thank God.

  • Deana
    2018-11-25 19:15

    I had high hopes for this book. I picked it up at an airport while traveling -- I saw the title and just couldn't resist! I like calculus, and while I knew about its applications to the roller coaster on the cover I was very curious about its applications to losing weight, winning in Vegas and winning a zombie apocalypse. Also, I was hoping that this would be the sort of book I could give to my mother, who isn't exactly great at math but does enjoy learning the very basic concepts and applications.Unfortunately, this is not the book for my mother. The actual calculus in this book is very minimal. The author introduces derivatives (rate of change) and integrals (adding things up) very briefly, and from then on, they are only mentioned in sentences like and now that I've told you all about this, you can see we added some things up so the integral would be useful here. The appendix has the actual math, but I think it's gone over too quickly for someone who doesn't actually have any calculus knowledge already.And also, I felt like the author was beating us over the head with her views about saving the environment, what with her super amazing Prius and her green gym that generates electricity by members using the bikes or treadmills. Now, that's NOT to say that I am against "green" measures... I recycle, I turn off lights and unplug things when they are not in use, and while I don't have a Prius I -do- drive a tiny car with great gas mileage. But I have to say, I don't think anyone who drives a gas guzzler and throws their plastic bottles in the trash is going to change their habits after reading this book, you know?BUT -- that's not to say the book is total waste. There -were- a few interesting math-related (but not calculus-related) things, like her graph about gas mileage, and some things about calories. And the zombie chapters are quite funny, too. AND there are some really interesting historical tidbits, throughout the book -- in fact, I'd say there is FAR more math-related history (and really well-written and interesting history, at that) than there is math.It's weird -- as I was reading it, I had a very negative impression of the book, and still feel a fairly negative impression. I was disappointed in the lack of calculus and that it wouldn't work for my mom. And yet, when I go back and read the little status updates I wrote after each chapter, they are mostly POSITIVE. So what gives?!If the book had been touted as a math history book, I totally would have given it four stars. But it gets a low rating because it just didn't fulfill my expectations based on its description and title.

  • Charlie
    2018-11-14 18:13

    The Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouellette was recommended to me some months ago during a lunch with a couple of friends. The conversation had turned toward math and physics (a favored topic amongst the two physic grads at the table)at which point my eyes started to glaze over as they often do when these topics come up. It's not that I don't enjoy them, it's that I have very little experience with them and felt I had nothing to contribute to the conversation no matter how interesting the discussion sounded. At some point though this book came up, perhaps because my eyes had glazed over or it as a way to get me to join in the conversation. I looked it up on Amazon that very day and purchased it for my Kindle.I will freely admit that I fear math in most forms. It is as the author says, "A different language." My capacity to learn this language was hampered(like many girls from my generation)by misconceptions and fallacies. According to Jennifer, she wrote the Calculus Diaries as a way to understand her physicist husband. Right from the start I liked that. It was something we had in common...Physic geeks.To start off, this book does not teach calculus and it never claims to be able to. It merely guides the reader through the thick and very rich history of how calculus was conceived and then refined over time. (There were some interesting characters and feuds going on...)Jennifer gives real world examples from her own life that explain how we use math without really thinking about it and breaks it down in such a way that's easy to understand. There were many moments where I paused in my reading and engaged my husband in a conversation about some point being made in the book. (Which made him smile...a lot.)Don't think that this is a fluff piece about math though. It's quite dense and it took me some time to get through it and likely will be revisited again. The last 25% is an appendix filled with longer explanations and equations for those that want to delve deeper into the topic as well as other resources.It's clear that the author cares about science education (math & sciences) as she talks a great deal at the beginning of the book and again at the end about it and the many misconceptions regarding gender and the ability to learn said subjects. What I took away from this book : Math is simply another all languages, it takes time to learn. There is no reason to be afraid of it.

  • Peter Aronson
    2018-12-09 18:16

    Four and a half starts, rounded down. When I took calculus in college, it was taught by mathematics grad students strictly cookbook style -- everything was about how you did calculus, and nothing about what calculus was, why you should use it or when use it (never mind anything about its history). And while I used it my physics and theory of statistics classes, and in grad school in spatial statistics, I was always told how to apply it to specific problems, with again no discussion of what, why or really even when (outside of specific problems in class). And at the time that seemed enough.Years later, I found myself wondering for some reason exactly what calculus was, what was it represented, and how it related to physical reality. So picked up and started to read A Tour of the Calculus, which scratched this itch some, but my copy vanished about halfway through my reading of it, and I never got back to it.Then recently, I found The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse in a book store, and my interest was rekindled. And at long last, my questions were answered (if not in detail). This is a light, breezy books with relatively little math in it given the subject (unless you count the optional appendixes) that indeed explains what calculus is, why it is used, and gives an overview of its history. It doesn't go into much detail, but it is a fun read, and I'm glad I read it.

  • Poussinette (Sophie)
    2018-11-18 18:14

    I must admit I'm completely biased and cannot be objective in any way while evaluating this book. You see, I love maths and science and stuggle to share that love with my many beleaguered students.As a direct consequence, I like most science popularization book I read, and read quite a few.What I find exceptional in this one is contained in the title : the author manages to find numerous examples of applied calculus (and probabilities) in "real life". Or rather, to use real-life situations to explain some of the uses of calculus. She also gives a lot of interesting historical background.The narration is basic and linear (ah ah linear, I know no-one else will laugh... nerds will be nerds), and the use of calculus in those situation is not too far-fetched. I do much worse in my classrooms. And many pupils buy it. It is also at times quite amusing, and the maths in the main part of the book is served in very easy to digest bites.I only picked up one "calculus" imprecision : (view spoiler)[technically, a function can have a derivative that is equal to zero for a value of x without admitting a maximum or minimum there, even though this doesn't happen in the examples given for they are teaching examples, much simpler than some real functions that pop up in physics. (the function that gives a cube of any number is the simplest of those functions, its derivatives for x=0 is 0, but it keeps growing bigger anyway) (hide spoiler)]. There are other errors wich Patrick noted a few reviews ago (density instead of weight, proportionality misused, but I didn't catch them because I'm not a native speaker and thought I was the mistaken one)A practical approach to calculus, with little mathematical imprecision, wich reads (almost) like a novel and makes you smile a few times : what's not to love ?

  • Bob Price
    2018-12-08 22:11

    If you ever wondered who would survive the zombie assured this book has the answer. It's not the marine with years of combat experience. It's not the hunter with dead accurate shots. It guessed it....the math nerd! Yes...all those years of studying differential equations are good for something! The Calculus Diariesis the math book you should read if you don't understand the reason why math is important. Or if you don't enjoy math...or if you want to see how math can be entertaining.Jennifer Ouellette is to be congratulated on making an enjoyable and easy to read book about complicated math equations. She does so utilizing some every day and some very unique examples. (After's not every day you read a book that encapsulates the history of calculus and relates it to the impending zombie epidemic.Each chapter describes a different aspect of calculus and cites a modern day example of how to apply it. Some of the examples were easier to grasp (such as the one from Disneyland), while others seemed a little more obtuse. But above all, her approach is light and fun.Ouellette is very clear about the purpose of the book. She does not seek to explore the very complicated equations (although a nice and handy appendix demonstrates all the actual math behind it). Rather, the point is to introduce the importance of math and the practical application behind it. The book is very well written and surprisingly interesting. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

  • Kevin
    2018-11-21 20:51

    Oulette's best writing begins while tying all of the book's concepts together at the end of the last chapter: "I will never listen to ocean waves or view a beautiful sunset in quite the same way again. That is perhaps the greatest gift one can gain by delving into calculus: It is a whole new way of looking at the world, accessible only through the realm of mathematics. I looked out over the ocean that evening and saw a picture-perfect sunset, but there was so much more that I had missed. [A physicist looks] out onto the same scene and [sees] the rich complexity of nature expressed in mathematical symbols, the fundamental abstract order lying just beneath the surface." This book is not heavy on the math and could have benefited from a few more illustrations of the mathematics that were presented, but it is a very well written chronicle of how to recognize that mathematics applies to just about everything. The epilogue sums up exactly how I feel about learning mathematics and the necessity to explore ideas that interest you. The only way to connect the abstract concepts, and have that "this is that" moment, is play around with them. I'll be recommending this book to anybody who wants to explore science and physics but has struggled with seeing the utility of math beyond arithmetic. It can easily be an inspiration for aspiring math majors.

  • Eric Bingham
    2018-11-14 20:19

    If you are hoping to learn Calculus from this book, don't bother. If you are hoping to get excited about calculus, and find some real life applications for it, then I strongly recommend it. I had Calculus a long time ago, and I muddled through it, but I wish I had read this book (or at least the first chapter) before I took the class. I don't know if I would have understood as much, but I would have been much more excited to take the class. Reading this book did make me wish I could take Calculus again now that I understand a few key concepts, and now that I see some real life applications. there isn't a lot of actual "math" in this book (until the appendix, and that got way over my head.) Most of the book is just thoughts about how math is used in real life. I enjoyed reading it even if I was a little disappointed that some of the math was way over my head. (Jennifer Ouellette is great at telling a fun story and making me want to understand math better, but she isn't great at actually explaining the math.) Really, I would give it a 3.5 stars if I could, but since this is my first ever math book, and it was interesting enough to ensure that it isn't my last ever math book, I figure I can err on the side of generosity.

  • Adriana
    2018-12-09 00:12

    Incredibly interesting and surprisingly in-depth, this is a book both for people who fear/hate Calculus because they struggled with it in school and for those who loved it.Ouellette manages to give detailed and super clear explanations to the most basic (and important) elements of Calculus while keeping things light and easy to follow. It really helps that it reads more like a history book that sometimes dives deep into mathematical speak than a treatise on Calculus. The opportunities for gossip and general fact drops are many, and who doesn't love reading those?I come into this with a love for Math in general and a weariness for Math related books that tend to be boring, but it was a very pleasant surprise that this is one incredibly smooth read. Apart from having to translate terms that I learned in Spanish and never thought I'd need to apply in English (numbers might be universal, but Calculus terms aren't), this is a book that I would recommend to anyone struggling with Calculus or just wanting to know the practical applications of the thing that made them suffer in High School. It's easy to read, easy to follow, and a great introduction to a difficult subject.

  • Matthew
    2018-11-26 20:06

    Jennifer Ouellette's prose feels a little like low-rent Mary Roach. Since I've read and loved a number of Ms. Roach's books, at times I found this annoying. If you haven't read Bonk or Packing for Mars (which I highly recommend), you'll probably just find it charming. However, despite that caveat, I really liked this book. I'll confess that there were times when I thought, could I just see the equation for that? and I was actually kind of in a hurry to finish it so I could read the appendix where the actual math resides. That might be a sign that the book was really successful in its purpose of instilling in the reader a real burning fascination with the many uses of calculus (which, full disclosure, I took in high school and actually totally enjoyed). I think Ms. Ouellette has missed her calling--she may think she's not that good at math, but she's a spectacular math teacher.

  • Danielle Robertson Rath
    2018-12-07 18:09

    This book was too good at piquing my interest in how Calculus is used in everyday problems, but not good enough at explaining how to actually solve those problems. Too often, author Jennifer Ouellette led me to care about a carefully painted scene or scenario, but then leave me hanging, "But wait, how exactly did Dido get that answer?!?" This would be a great book if you're currently studying or about to take Calculus. However, for those of us that took Calculus ages ago, this book will not help you actually use Calculus in your every day life. But you'll know that it's there... Overall, this book is a bit of a tease, but I guess that's a testament to Ms Ouellette's great writing skills (and lack of actual mathematics teaching experience?). The chapters themselves are quite entertaining and humorous, so it's fun to read; I personally got too interested in the process of problem solving, and felt like I was left hanging.

  • Louisa
    2018-11-13 23:12

    If I had judged this book by its cover, I would never even have opened it. I hate roller coasters. I do not want to lose weight. I have zero interest in gambling, or in zombies. But I like math, and so I put aside my prejudices and read the introduction. And the first chapter. And all the rest of it, because Ms. Ouellette's writing is intelligent and witty, and the content is entertaining, with many historical anecdotes and a good overview of the invention of calculus and its practical applications. In the appendix, she gives a short refreshment course on differential and integral calculus, which is very useful in case you have dumped all your high school math books or are too lazy to dig them up. My favourite quote? This one:I think scientists have a valid point when they bemoan the fact that it's socially acceptable in our culture to be utterly ignorant of math, whereas it is a shameful thing to be illiterate. We could all just be a little mathier.

  • Yofish
    2018-12-09 02:19

    It's supposed to be a layman's guide to what you can use calculus for. It was frustrating to me how little math it had in it, though I'm clearly not the audience. (It also seemed just downright wrong in places.) Actually goes further than I would have thought, with predator/prey models (in the form of Zombie Apocalypse, which would have been more interesting without reference to Pride&Prejudice&Zombies) and calculus of variations. She has losing weight in the context of optimizing with constraints. Which almost makes sense, but ends up being not very mathematical. There's lots of stories about mathematicians, but I've heard many of them before (Archimedes running naked shouting "Eureka!", Newton avoiding the plague). Her day job seems to be as a blogger explaining physics to the layman, which she came to because she's an English major who married a physicist.

  • Héctor
    2018-12-07 02:20

    The author gives simple explanations to calculus concepts that are really complex in a really cool way. You don't need to know a lot of math to read this book and in fact, the less you know about math, the more this book is going to surprise you. I appreciate this and the anecdotes are funny in themselves. But I am not the target audience and I can only read so many explanations of the derivative and integral before I go numb and no amount of funny anecdotes could stop me from asking myself "Why I am reading this again?". There are many redeeming qualities about this book though, like knowing more about the life of the big names that I've known since college.I recommend it, since I appreciate the need for this book, but I couldn't make myself love it

  • Todd
    2018-11-26 20:06

    It wasn't exactly what I was expecting from a book sitting in the "Science" section at Barnes & Noble. Ouellette does a good job providing the history of calculus and the associated mathematicians, including some practical applications. The chapter on using calculus to survive the zombie apocalypse was fun.My only real complaint is that the book is very light on actual calculus. If the reader doesn't dig through the appendix, someone could end up reading an entire book on calculus and still not have any idea what a differential or integral equation looks like. It would have been nice if she provided a few more pages to actually go through the calculations and solutions to the examples provided.