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Geekspeak: How Life + Mathematics = Happiness    by Graham Tattersall order for
by Graham Tattersall
Order:  USA  Can
Collins, 2008 (2007)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In his Introduction to Geekspeak: How Life + Mathematics = Happiness, Dr. Graham Tattersall explains how, early in life, he became 'fascinated by how things work', developed 'a desire to explore the hows and whys surrounding everyday life', and so became a Geek. He offers his book to empower the rest of us to use 'numeracy to be better informed' and judge the validity of the flood of so called expert opinions with which we are inundated daily.

The book's eclectic topics range from Scrabbling for Words: How big is your vocabulary? (whose content includes fingerprint words in men and women's conversations) and Pumping Iron: Are you as powerful as a washing machine? (where he reminds us that 'Labeling commonplace machines and devices in manpower instead of watts might keep us much more aware of our dependence on fossil fuel') to Beam Me Up, Scotty: How long would it take to send your body to Mars? (three hours); 'When the Wind Blows: Is a storm more powerful than an atomic bomb?' (yes and no); and The Man in White: How much could sea levels rise?. The latter especially interested me. Tattersall points out that Arctic ice is mostly floating anyway so an Arctic melt would have little impact on rising sea levels (though of course it has other bad effects). An Antarctic melt would be of greater impact to coastlines, but would take a couple of centuries.

Though I didn't really need to know that 'The speed of the gases in a fart can reach 20 mph', I enjoyed Graham Tattersall's clever out-of-the-box insights (with a mild focus on environmental issues). Geekspeak is filled with intriguing information (did you know that 'Sunlight is 400,000 times brighter than moonlight'?) presented with Brit humor, as in a quote from a mathematician colleague: 'The lottery is a tax on the statistically challenged.' If you share the author's interest in the world around you - and want to learn how to check the validity of newspaper headlines - Geekspeak is a good starting point.

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