Five things I learned from reading “The Power of Mathematical Thinking”

Here is a list of five things I learned from reading this book.

1. It felt like Jordan Ellenberg, was writing a love letter to math.
On the surface a book about just numbers but as I read I found series of amusing stories narrating mathematical significance.

2. Berkson’s fallacy makes sense in popular topics.
People using apps like Tinder are rating their potential love interests by appearance.
This can be represented in a graph where they ugly but nice guys or girls you like, make up a tiny corner of the triangle.


Similarly, this correlation works with popular novels that are really terrible. It is not because the audience doesn’t appreciate quality, it is because the only novels you hear about are in the acceptable triangle.


3. Even professionals are biased that math has only one “right” answer but math purely provides likely outcomes.
When Mr.Ellenberg was a college student he had a summer job working as a “mathematician”  for a researcher in public health. The researcher wanted to find how many people were going to have tuberculosis by the year of 2050.
He did everything math majors do and eventually, he learned that he had no final answer due to the uncertainty built in the studies. Not precisely what the researcher wanted to hear so Mr.Ellenber just gave the researcher his “best guess.”

“I’ll bet if anyone asked him how he knew this, he would say, I hired a guy who did the math.”
Jordan Ellenberg, How Not to Be Wrong, pg. 422

4. Mathematical writing is creative writing.
Many people see mathematicians in a trip to mental fire. In reality, they love the true sensation of mathematical understanding. They seek for definition and every mathematician creates new things, some big, some small, it can be finite or infinite.

5. “Be less like Sweden”
In the battle over Affordable Care Act the Cato Institute posted a blog entry “Why is Obama trying to make America more like Sweeden when Swedes are trying to be less like Sweden”


Mr.Ellenberg elaborated deeply on this topic, he provided a chart of what the world looks like to the Cato Institute.
The x-axis represents Swedishness and the y-axis prosperity. What does this mean? “The more Swedish you are, the worse off your country is.”

The parabolic representation shows Obama’s closest views towards economics. You may notice that both pictures give different advice about how Swedish USA should be.

The difference between the pictures is about linearity and nonlinearity. The author touches a story narrating economics and graphs.

“Nonlinear thinking means which way you should go depends on where you already are.”  

  • A non-mathematician might get a little lost along the way but the author makes sure you stay with him 😊
  • Overall a solid reading for people with a background in statistics, you’ll probably know most of what is in this book.