Sophie’s Diary: A Mathematical Novel – Imagining French mathematician Sophie Germain as a young teen – #bookreview

Sophie’s Diary: A Mathematical Novel
Dora Musielak
(Math Association of America, hardback)

The Mathematical Association of America recently has published the second edition of this intriguing “mathematical novel.” Its story is built around a fictional diary and a real-life French mathematician, Marie-Sophie Germain.

The well-written tale imagines Ms. Germain writing down her thoughts and experiences while coming of age and learning mathematics amid the social turmoil that is roiling 18th-century Paris.

Marie-Sophie Germain is remembered primarily for her number theory work that offered several “novel approaches” to solving Fermat’s Last Theorem.

Si Dunn

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The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra – Love, karate & mind-bending math in a helpful comic book – #bookreview #in

The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra
Shin Takahashi, Iroha Inoue, and Trend-Pro Co., Ltd.
(No Starch Press,
paperback, list price $24.95)

Linear algebra is one of the reasons I fled engineering school and became a writer many years ago. Mathematical abstractions and my mind just do not seem to know how to mix.

I would like to say that reading The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra has caused a complete breakthrough in my stubborn resistance to any math beyond simple equations. But that would be a complete lie. Linear transformations, inverse matrices, and eigenvectors still do not compute well inside my head. Of course, the good news – for me – is that they really don’t have to. I’m an old guy now and not worried about becoming a scientist or mathematician. I’ll never have to know a diagonalizable matrix from a determinant to cash a Social Security check.

But many young people do need to know linear algebra. And The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra can be helpful for any serious student, from middle-school age through college, who is wrestling with linear algebra concepts. It’s a fun book that mixes karate and romance with real math in a now well-proven comic book style that facilitates learning.

You do have to get past the fact that even this book has trouble presenting an easily grasped definition of linear algebra. “That’s a tough question to answer properly,” young math whiz Reiji Yurino confesses to his new love interest, Misa Ichinose. But once you do slide past his mind-numbing response (“Broadly speaking, linear algebra is about translating something residing in an m-dimensional space into a corresponding shape in an n-dimensional space”), each key concept is presented and illustrated in clever and helpful ways amid an unfolding story of young love and having to learn self-defense.

Thanks to this book, I now know more about linear algebra than I learned in my doomed attempt to become an electrical engineer. And who knows? If I had had the book many decades ago, I might now be lecturing in a university classroom, stealing quotes from Reiji Yurino, and telling you with a chuckle: “You can generally never find more than n different eigenvalues and eigenvectors for any nxn matrix.”

Seriously, if you know someone who is facing linear algebra with dread (maybe it’s you) or struggling with it and now expressing frustration and resistance, this book likely can help.

Si Dunn