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Monday, June 15, 2015

‘How to Bake Pi,’ by Eugenia Cheng

Follow on Twitter as @DrEugeniaCheng
"To make mathematics palatable for the lay reader, the author must sweeten the pill. There are many ways to do this, but Eugenia Cheng is surely the first to have approached the task literally, writing a math book in which almost every chapter begins with a recipe for dessert." continues New York Times.
Photo: New York Times

Math and cooking are similar, she writes. Both involve ingredients and methods. Just as a baker needs to master the principles of his ingredients, a mathematician must learn the principles of numbers. Puff pastry is an example of how basic ingredients can make something sophisticated and delicious. Likewise math can get very complicated and fascinating with only a few simple concepts. And when you adapt a cake to be gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free or Paleo-compatible, you are modifying the notion of what it is to be a cake, in the same way mathematicians generalize from, say, a particular triangle to a family of triangles.

Cheng never quite overeggs her metaphor of the mathematician as chef, however, and her tone is clear, clever and friendly. Even at her most whimsical she is rigorous and insightful. Potentially confusing ideas are expressed with a matter-of-fact simplicity: “As long as your new idea doesn’t cause a contradiction,” she writes, “you are free to invent it.” The math is presented in bite-size chunks and made relevant through personal stories from Cheng’s school years in Britain and life in America,Still, “How to Bake Pi” is a welcome addition to the popular-math shelf, unusual not only b where she is scientist in residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago...

Still, “How to Bake Pi” is a welcome addition to the popular-math shelf, unusual not only because of its quirky premise but also ecause of its quirky premise but also because Cheng is a woman, a lucid and nimble expositor, and unashamedly proud of her domestic obsessions. The vast majority of university math professors are men, as are the vast majority of popular math authors. It would be wonderful if this book attracted a new audience to the field. And there’s no better ambassador (or dinner-party host, I’d wager) than Eugenia Cheng.  
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Additional resources 
The Perfect Way to Share a Cake 

How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics.
What is math? How exactly does it work? And what do three siblings trying to share a cake have to do with it? In How to Bake Pi, math professor Eugenia Cheng provides an accessible introduction to the logic and beauty of mathematics...  
Publisher: Basic Books (May 5, 2015).

Source: New York Times
and The University of Sheffield Channel (YouTube)