Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review: Riddles in Mathematics: A Book of Paradoxes by Eugene P Northrop

Two fathers and two sons leave town. This reduces the population of the town by three. True? Yes, if the trio consists of a father, son, and grandson. This entertaining collection consists of more than 200 such riddles, drawn from every branch of mathematics. Math enthusiasts of all ages will enjoy sharpening their wits with riddles rooted in areas from arithmetic to calculus, covering a wide range of subjects that includes geometry, trigonometry, algebra, concepts of the infinite, probability, and logic. But only an elementary knowledge of mathematics is needed to find amusement in this imaginative collection, which features complete solutions and more than 100 black-and-white illustrations.
"Mr. Northrop writes well and simply. Every so often he will illuminate his discussion with an amusing example. While reading a discussion of topology, the reviewer learned how to remove his vest from beneath his jacket. It works every time." — The New York Times
I love a good riddle, so I figured this book would be right up my alley.

In Riddles in Mathematics: A Book of Paradoxes, readers get to read work through different mathematical riddles and paradoxes. Some of the paradoxes include detailed solutions and diagrams.

I started this book expecting a sort of brain teaser/puzzle book with solutions after each problem, much like those crossword and puzzle magazines you see in magazine stands. This book, however, is closer to a mathematics textbook.

There are discussions and some of the paradoxes are used as examples to illustrate the point the author is trying to make. Some of the paradoxes, on the other hand, serve as centerpieces to the whole discussion.

There are more than a few concepts, diagrams and formulas here that I haven't seen since I left college. It wasn't exactly what I expected, and since I'm the type of student who learns better by doing or by making notes on the page, it was harder for me to follow along with the book. Around a third of the way through the book, it really felt like I was back in college and reading a textbook.

That's not to say that this book isn't interesting or doesn't have its own merits. There are a lot of interesting paradoxes here that really get you thinking, even if some of them are too obvious to need explanations or are so popular that chances are you've probably heard of them or some variation thereof. I also liked the mind-reading tricks. These are the tricks wherein a person asks you to choose a number and then asks you to do some mathematical calculations and from the answer, he or she will try to guess the original number.

Thanks to NetGalley and Dover Publications for the e-ARC.


  1. There are plenty of puzzles that will make you think.
  2. Some of the solutions are very detailed.
  3. It covers a number of mathematical disciplines. 


  1. You may quickly lose interest if you only have a passing interest in mathematics. 


  1. You like riddles that really make you think.
  2. You like math.
  3. You teach math. 




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