By Julian Havil
Princeton University Press, $18.95, 235 pages
There need to be more math books for the average person if we want a better appreciation of mathematics in general. Impossible?: Surprising Solutions to Counterintuitive Conundrums is almost that book. A number of mathematical paradoxes are explored and the math behind how they work is shown. The puzzles take us to some very interesting places in the mathematical universe, and for those that are paying attention it can be very elucidating.
However, this is not a book for the layman, at least a year of college math is the entry requirement, as well as an intense curiosity for the subject. There are a few minor typos (you really need to be following the math to see them), but otherwise this is a fun book for the mathematically inclined. A little more background on the conundrums would have been appreciated, as these are problems that sometimes reach into some very practical areas; the justification for why these have puzzled mathematicians and why they were pursued would have been a nice pay-off for reading the book, rather than just a history of who pursued them. It’s a great book, it just needed to have more fun with the subject matter.
Reviewed by Jamais Jochim