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Surprising Solutions to Counterintuitive Conundrums
Julian Havil

Paperback | 2011 | $22.95 | £18.95 | ISBN: 9780691150024
264 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 75 line illus.
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In Nonplussed!, popular-math writer Julian Havil delighted readers with a mind-boggling array of implausible yet true mathematical paradoxes. Now Havil is back with Impossible?, another marvelous medley of the utterly confusing, profound, and unbelievable--and all of it mathematically irrefutable.

Whenever Forty-second Street in New York is temporarily closed, traffic doesn't gridlock but flows more smoothly--why is that? Or consider that cities that build new roads can experience dramatic increases in traffic congestion--how is this possible? What does the game show Let's Make A Deal reveal about the unexpected hazards of decision-making? What can the game of cricket teach us about the surprising behavior of the law of averages? These are some of the counterintuitive mathematical occurrences that readers encounter in Impossible? ?

Havil ventures further than ever into territory where intuition can lead one astray. He gathers entertaining problems from probability and statistics along with an eclectic variety of conundrums and puzzlers from other areas of mathematics, including classics of abstract math like the Banach-Tarski paradox. These problems range in difficulty from easy to highly challenging, yet they can be tackled by anyone with a background in calculus. And the fascinating history and personalities associated with many of the problems are included with their mathematical proofs. Impossible? will delight anyone who wants to have their reason thoroughly confounded in the most astonishing and unpredictable ways.


"Havil once again explores a variety of mathematical results and problems that at first appear to be self-contradictory, or stated in such a way that no solution could exist. In each case, he then either sketches a proof of why the result is not contradictory, or explains the solution to the seemingly unsolvable problem . . . . Like a magician revealing secrets, Havil maintains this sense through most chapters, dropping the punch line at just the right moment."--J.T. Noonan, Choice

"This sequel to the author's book Nonplussed! supplies another set of brain-stretching problems and ideas. Its subtitle is 'Surprising Solutions to Counterintuitive Conundrums'; the surprise often consisting of the fact that it is possible to obtain a solution at all! . . . This is another excellent book by Havil, following in the Martin Gardner tradition."--Alan Stevens, Mathematics Today

"Julian Havil has quietly joined the ranks of the very best writers of popular mathematics. His two volume set Impossible? and Nonplussed! Mathematical Proof of Implausible Ideas not only belong in every library, but in the hands of every young person interested in mathematics and especially in the hands of their teachers."--John J. Watkins, Mathematical Intelligencer

"Impossible? is an immensely thought-provoking book. Even if you skim or skip the more complex abstract math, you may have a hard time letting these puzzles go, so strongly do they flout common sense. You'll just have to do your best to put them our of your mind when you need to get some sleep, but if the situation ever arises, be sure to take Monty up on his offer."--Ray Bert, Civil Engineering

"I would highly recommend this book as a reference for the mathematician who likes recreational mathematics, or as a good read for the recreational enthusiast with a penchant for more rigor."--Blair Madore, MAA Reviews


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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments xi
Introduction 1
Chapter 1: It's Common Knowledge 3
Chapter 2: Simpson's Paradox 11
Chapter 3: The Impossible Problem 21
Chapter 4: Braess's Paradox 31
Chapter 5: The Power of Complex Numbers 39
Chapter 6: Bucking the Odds 50
Chapter 7: Cantor's Paradise 68
Chapter 8: Gamow-Stern Elevators 82
Chapter 9: The Toss of a Coin 88
Chapter 10: Wild-Card Poker 103
Chapter 11: Two Series 113
Chapter 12: Two Card Tricks 131
Chapter 13: The Spin of a Needle 146
Chapter 14: The Best Choice 165
Chapter 15: The Power of Powers 176
Chapter 16: Benford's Law 190
Chapter 17: Goodstein Sequences 201
Chapter 18: The Banach-Tarski Paradox 210
The Motifs 217
Appendix 221
Index 233

This book has been translated into:

  • Japanese

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Julian Havil:

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