Three Books for the STEM Major’s Soul

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Hey y’all! It’s almost the weekend and I’ve gathered a short list of good reads for those of y’all who are looking to stay warm in bed with a good book. While the title suggests these books are for STEM majors I believe everyone can learn a thing or two from them. Not only are they rich in information, the lessons they contain are so applicable to our daily lives that you will genuinely feel smarter wiser after reading a couple of chapters. I really enjoyed these books and I highly recommend everyone to tackle the hefty topics they cover.

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg

I ran across this book during a quick stop at Barnes and Noble and its title immediately captured my attention because, as a know-it-all, I love not being wrong. It stuck with me for so long that six months after the fact I decided to finally give in and check it out at the library, and I don’t regret it one bit. One of the first things that struck me was how accessible it attempts to make math concepts for readers of all math backgrounds; while at some points it can be a dense read, its logical approach allows even the least mathematically-inclined person to learn a thing or two (kudos to Ellenberg!). The use of entertaining and contemporary analogies complements the explanation of the math concepts in a way that genuinely made me feel like I was gaining practical and versatile knowledge, so much so that I found myself trying to apply the lessons to my daily situations.

Overall, the book aims to show you just how fundamental mathematical thinking is, presents its powerful application in different facets of the world, and gives you a preliminary lesson on interpreting how numbers and statistics are manipulated. How Not to Be Wrong is a fascinating read with invaluable insights that will leave you hungry to learn more.

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths

This book will tell you the perfect time to stop looking for a parking spot, lover, and employee all using the same logic. Daily human problems such as figuring out a schedule, deciding on an effective sorting pattern, and becoming a master at networking are all addressed through algorithms that computers also implement. This book is insightful in making you realize just how intricate the human process of decision-making is and how it parallels computer algorithms; the problems we encounter day to day have been deliberated over and solved by computer scientists through mathematical reasoning that translate into our own lives. While you have to be familiar with some computer science to truly appreciate this book, I still found myself amazed by how relevant mathematical algorithms are in devising simple and mundane solutions. The examples Christian and Griffith use are so relevant and attempt to make the book handy for all readers that surely you will find yourself reflecting on your own decisions. I highly recommend this valuable read because of how rich in knowledge and relevant it is.

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil

Cathy O’Neil killed it with this one! Once a Wall Street analyst, O’Neil became aware of the toxic manipulation of math by big corporations and powerful individuals and decided to leave her position at a huge hedge fund to expose the dangers of large-scale data modeling. A large portion of our future is determined by mathematical models, and while at its surface this can seem like a fair and unbiased approach it’s crucial to realize that one size does not fit all. Big data facilitates large-scale decisions and in time has gained a huge amount of agency over our lives, yet models notoriously lack depth and indirectly target the most vulnerable groups of people. O’Neil thoroughly explains how these models affect us directly by using very contemporary situations, for example college admissions, online ads, and finances; she aims to get a reaction from you in order to demand better use of big data. This was my favorite read because it is a reminder that while technology and modeling is improving, they have the potential to be very harmful to the least powerful in our society.

 

Do yourself a favor and look for one of these books in your library because the amount of knowledge you will gain from even a chapter is just unbelievable, trust me!

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