MAA Euler Book Prize Goes to Steven Strogatz’s "Joy of x"

Bell curves are out. Fat tails are in.

Thus reads the summary that aims to entice anyone scanning the table of contents of Steven Strogatz‘s The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) to read chapter 22, “The New Normal.”

An expository masterpiece, from the one-sentence chapter descriptions in the table of contents to the extensive endnotes, The Joy of x has earned Strogatz the 2014 Euler Book Prize, awarded by the Mathematical Association of America at the 2014 Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore.

Named for prolific Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler and awarded annually since 2007, the 300th anniversary of his birth, the Euler Book Prize recognizes authors of exceptionally well-written books that positively impact the public perception of mathematics.

The Joy of x grew out of a series of mathematical columns Strogatz wrote for the New York Times beginning in January 2010. The Cornell University mathematician and 2007 recipient of the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications Award calls the book his “attempt to help the wider public see what our subject is all about and why we love it so much.”

In succinct chapters, The Joy of x revisits grade-school arithmetic, high-school algebra and geometry, and selected topics from undergraduate mathematics. The book succeeds, according to the award citation, in showing “that these subjects have a beautiful side, a playful side, a mysterious side, and a practical side even in our present-day cyberculture.”

And non-mathematicians aren’t the only readers who will benefit from a dip into The Joy of x. The book’s 45 pages of notes offer mathematical arguments and sketches of proofs, fresh ideas and interesting anecdotes, and annotated references to online and printed resources. Moreover, “the book is a model of how mathematics can be presented to a general audience in an appealing and humanizing way.”

So, whether you haven’t touched mathematics since high school or have been immersed in it for decades, give the winner of the 2014 Euler Book Prize a look. Not convinced? Cast your eye over that beguiling table of contents.

Watch for an interview with Steven Strogatz in the February 2014 issue of Math Horizons. He’s on the cover!