Humble Pi by Matt Parker
(Penguin Press, 2019)

Humble Pi

by Matt Parker

Why can’t smart phones divide 75 by 14? How come Excel has difficulty calculating that 0.5 – 0.4 – 0.1 = 0? Why do spreadsheets fail after row 1,048,576? More seriously, perhaps, why do US jet fighters have a tendency to go wrong when they cross the international date line? How did the ancient Greeks get themselves in a fix moving stone pillars from one building site to another? Why was a British woman was convicted of murder on the basis of a statistician for the prosecution working out that the chance of her being innocent was 0.00000014%, when the actual chance was 89%? And why should you never trust a mathematician who invites you to wager on the outcome of a series of coin-tosses?

At an abstract level, the subject of mathematics itself is, by definition, never wrong. Mathematics is the pursuit of pure correct logic. Humans, on the other hand, are great at getting things wrong.

Humble Pi is a history of mathematical error, misapplication and failure. Along the way, it also shows us why maths is a fantastic ally, and how it can make up for our inadequacies, and allow us to access logic and reasoning we cannot grasp intuitively.


Matt Parker shows off maths at its most playful and multifarious”
- Jordan Ellenberg, author of How to Not Be Wrong
Matt Parker is some sort of unholy fusion of a prankster, wizard and brilliant nerd--maths is rarely this clever, funny and ever so slightly naughty.”
- Adam Rutherford, author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived
Jauntily provocative”
- Simon Griffith, The Mail on Sunday
While ... examples come with serious lessons about ways to make systems more tolerant of user failure (because users will always fail), Parker is consistently very funny.”
- The Guardian
...As Parker makes plain in his engaging and fascinating book, there is no escaping the fact that today’s world is largely built on mathematics: computers, gaming, finance, engineering, you name it – it’s all maths in different guises. ”
- Manjit Kumar, New Statesman