Fellow science writer and author of Black Bodies and Quantum Cats, Jennifer Ouellette has a new book out – The Calculus Diaries – which she attempts to de-traumatize those of us who were force-fed derivatives and integrals but perhaps never got past pi-r-squared.
The marketing blurb explains how mathematics can help you lose weight, win in Vegas and survive a zombie apocalypse. The book itself bridges the gap between one’s mathematical dysfunctionality and the real world. It’s the math(s) of everyday life and Ouelette immersed herself in it for a year in order to conquer and calculate. If De Niro and his ilk “live the life of their characters” in method acting, then this is “method science writing”.
There was no single factor that led Ouellette down this methodical path, more of a gradual realization that this might be a topic that would be far more interesting to her adult self than she had presumed back in high school. “We all have gaps in our broad base of knowledge, and while I am far more scientifically literate than the average American, I am woefully ignorant about math,” says Ouellette. “Sure, I can balance my checkbook and manage my personal finances, even figure out basic percentages, but that’s just basic arithmetic. Most of us just don’t resonate well to how the subject is traditionally taught. Our brains don’t work that way. But make it relevant to us in some tangible way, and we become far less resistant, even genuinely interested. At least that was my experience.”
You can follow Jennifer Ouellette on twitter @JeanLucPiquant