Mastering Numbers, by Andrew Jeffrey – book review

Guest post by Tor Swerdlow

Cover of Mastering Numbers, by Andrew JeffreyI am not the target audience for this book. Andrew Jeffery, aka The Mathemagician, spends his time, as I do, in the pursuit of making Maths accessible to learners in schools so as to engender a love of Mathematics in future generations. He, like more and more Maths teachers these days, works to disseminate his enthusiasm, making Maths fun for children and thereby answering the age old question echoing through school corridors, ‘What’s the point?’.

In this book Andrew Jeffery seeks to demystify mathematics, expose some short cuts to simplify what on the surface may seem like complicated calculations and provide answers as to why we have to learn this stuff in the first place. It is a whistle stop tour of many different aspects of Mathematics. It is written for an adult audience, perhaps already partially converted, as I feel those with a fear of Maths wouldn’t be inclined to pick it up, but should.

He includes ideas for quick mental calculations and how to make it easy for yourself. In today’s society few of us are without a phone and therefore without a calculator, so what’s the point of mental arithmetic you may ask? Jeffery explains it’s twofold. The first is that, if you practice regularly, these mental methods are quicker than finding the calculator app and inputting the figures but also how can you tell if the calculator is actually giving the correct answer? Our reliance on technology is great but we need to have a sense of authority over it and we need to know if the answer is reasonable. Additionally, though he doesn’t mention it specifically, there is an element of satisfaction gained from discovering you can do it yourself and it wasn’t nearly as hard as you thought.

Also included is Mathematics. Calculations come under the umbrella of Arithmetic, a small subsection of Mathematics which is mainly what people think of when they think Maths. Many people think if you can’t do arithmetic accurately then you are no good at Maths. Maths is so much more than that. Jeffery introduces us to a variety of different areas of Mathematics thereby bringing in the uses and purposes of Maths in the wider world.

For instance, we teach prime numbers at primary school. A seemingly random series of numbers that don’t divide by anything else. At this stage it is apparently useless other than to identify the numbers that can’t form anything other than one kind of rectangle with multilink cubes. But what adult doesn’t have a debit or credit card and from secondary school who doesn’t use the internet for purchases and communication. The little padlock symbol which assures us everything is safe is there because of prime numbers. Encryption is based on multiplying large prime numbers, making the resulting number nearly impossible to factorise and thereby creating a code that’s nearly impossible to crack.

Jeffery also includes the mind-blowing connection between numbers and nature. The golden ratio and the Fibonacci series feature in our understanding of beauty, the creation of ancient architecture, efficient distribution of seeds in plants, oh yes and credit cards again.

I enjoyed reading this book, but as I say I’m not the target audience. It is short which is an advantage to those who really only want to dip their toe in the water and get an idea. There is a list of further reading to follow up. There is so much to Mathematics it wouldn’t be possible to include it all in one book and as a simple introduction to pique the interest I hope this will encourage readers to delve more deeply into specific areas of interest. When learning about History, everyone has areas that fascinate them more than others and Mathematics is the same. Maybe you will find yours.

Get Mastering Numbers here (affiliate link).

Thanks to Watkins Publishing for the review copy.

Tor Swerdlow is a Maths specialist who teaches children with Special Educational Needs.

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