If someone in your family or in your close circle of friends has a young child, you are no doubt intimately aware of how young ones see the world as a fascinating place filled with wondrous secrets that are within their grasp if they explore long and hard enough. We all used to be like that. But as we grow older and the various responsibilities of life settle in, we tend to lose this perspective. Many of my friends strive to maintain this it, and make good use of the tools they have available to them to do so.
Rob Eastaway and Jeremy Wyndham’s book, Why Do Buses come in Threes? The Hidden Mathematics of Everyday Life, will contribute to maintaining such an attitude, as it is a well-written, engaging reminder of how amazing the simplest things in life can be. Even being stuck in traffic can become a fascinating exercise in observation.
In his forward, Tim Rice reminds readers that “we did not invent mathematics, we discovered it.” Just like in their other book, How Long Is a Piece of String? More Hidden Mathematics of Everyday Life, Eastaway and Wyndham not only show us some of the things humanity has discovered, but “bring maths back into real, everyday life”. They do so by starting each chapter with familiar questions, such as: Why can’t I find a four-leafed clover? Which way should I go? Why do clever people get things wrong? How do you keep a secret? What is the best way to cut a cake? Why am I always in traffic jams?
Chapter subheadings give the reader a hint of what the answer to the question might be. Some of my favorite subheadings include: sometimes experience and intelligence can be a disadvantage; coincidences aren’t as surprising as you would think; code-making and breaking isn’t just for spies; why four o’clock can be the time for some mathematical headaches; motorways, escalators, and supermarkets all have one thing in common: queues. (I’ll let you figure out which correspond which of the previously mentioned questions.) This format, used throughout the book, makes it not only highly entertaining, but guides the way you read the chapter, ensuring that you easily can relate even the more complex maths to everyday life.
There are many interesting tidbits about our world that pepper almost every page of this book. The explanations are rooted in science, and presented in a way that is easy to grasp yet not over-simplistically patronizing. Most of the information in the book can be easily absorbed; the heavier parts only require a few extra readings. Both the easy and the difficult material will make you thirsty for more.
If you have forgotten how amazing the little things in life can be, will definitely help you remember. As the authors state in the book’s introduction, “mathematics is fascinating, beautiful, sometimes even magical.” You will be staring in wonder at many nondescript things around you after you start reading this book. You can either make sure to always have a scapegoat child around while you are reading this book, or you can share its wonder with your friends.