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Solving the World's Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin
Lawrence Weinstein & John A. Adam

Book Description | Table of Contents
Chapter 1 [in PDF format]


"[A] delightful account of mathematical approximation, which instills the beauty and power of the back-of-the-envelope calculation. The puzzles make addictive confidence builders by breaking down tricky questions into manageable parts. Never again will you take a newspaper figure at face value without feeling the need, and confidence, to guesstimate your own figure."--Matthew Killeya, New Scientist

"Guesstimation is both enlightening and entertaining. I recommend it to my fellow journalists both as a tool of our trade and as a mind stretcher."--Rony V. Diaz, Manila Times

"Any idea what fraction of land in the US is covered by either a roof or pavement? Known as a Fermi problem, this type of question requires the use of reasonable estimation, which is the focus of the book at hand. In the initial chapters, Weinstein and Adam briefly review good 'guesstimation' techniques involving numbers and explain why the use of the geometric mean is preferred over the arithmetic mean."--J. Johnson, Choice

"How many people in the world are picking their nose right now? Weinstein and Adam 'guesstimate' the answer to this problem and 79 others, covering chemistry, physics, biology and history. The book is a step-by-step guide to problem-solving using rough-and-ready maths, the kind done on the back of a cocktail napkin. And the authors have kindly left additional questions at the end to get readers started on their own problem-solving expedition."--Cosmos

"Physics educators can use this book as a guide to including the important skill of estimation in their courses. Students may find the power of estimation to be a valuable skill and will want to work their way through this book."--Arthur Eisenkrafr, American Journal of Physics

"A source of imaginative problems, this book would make a nice addition to a mathematics department library."--Diane Resek, Mathematics Teacher

"[I]t's quite obvious that the authors intend their book to be fun, nonthreatening, and user-friendly. There's very little not to like. . . . [T]he book can be for everybody, 'higher-up professionals' who might know math but not physics, as well as students wrestling with 'word problems.' Teachers could very well recommend it to math majors and nonmajors alike, or even use it in the classroom, in some cases as supplementary reading for the course."--Marion Deutsche Cohen, Mathematical Intelligencer

"The cumulative effect of fairly simple paths to estimating solutions to a dizzying array of difficult problems is fascinating."--Ray Bert, Civil Engineering


"Guesstimation is a delightful book that, page after page, gleams with insight into the measure of all things--from house pets to lottery tickets and from the kitchen to the cosmos. Meanwhile, the authors cleverly teach you some fundamental chemistry, physics, and biology, leaving you enlightened and curiously comfortable with all that once seemed intractable in the world."--Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, author of Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries

"Wow, I suddenly grasped concepts that have eluded me for a lifetime. If you work anywhere in the professional world and are aiming for the corner office, this little book could have significant impact on both your analytical abilities and the way you are perceived by others. An absolute eye-opener!"--Martin Yate, New York Times best-selling author of the Knock 'Em Dead job-search and career-management books

"In a world where we are constantly bombarded with quantitative information (and disinformation) and where implausible factoids become established truths by repetition, acquiring a sound grounding in 'numeric literacy' has almost become a civic duty. Weinstein and Adam show to us that it can also be fun! An extremely useful book--not just for the intelligent layperson, but for virtually everyone: politicians, students, policymakers and, yes, sometimes even physicists."--Riccardo Rebonato, Royal Bank of Scotland, author of Plight of the Fortune Tellers

"As well as giving insight into how scientists think, this book packs in more amazing facts than you could shake a stick at. Learn the technique of 'guesstimation' and you will be able to astound your friends at parties, as well as avoid getting ripped off by misleading advertising claims. You may even be able to work out how many facts you can shake a stick at."--John Gribbin, author of Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity

"A very interesting and informative work, showing both how important and how easy it can be to estimate magnitudes. This book will amuse you while it instructs."--Gino Segrè, author of A Matter of Degrees

"This is definitely my kind of book. The authors show, using numerous examples, how readers can make numerical estimates of quantities--some absurd and some fascinating--in a wide variety of areas. This is a very useful talent--be it in everyday life, in one's career, or in job interviews."--Robert Ehrlich, author of Eight Preposterous Propositions

"This book will benefit teachers and students in science and engineering, from grade school to college. The problems are well chosen to illustrate increasingly complex themes, culminating in energy conservation, risk assessment, and environmental problems. The solutions are careful, complete, and illuminating. General readers with a taste for mathematical puzzles will enjoy it."--Hans Christian von Baeyer, author of The Fermi Solution

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File created: 4/8/2014

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