Q&A with Marc Chamberland, author of Single Digits: In Praise of Small Numbers

Marc Chamberland is the Myra Steele Professor of Natural Science and Mathematics at Grinnell College. He is also the creator of the popular YouTube channel Tipping Point Math, which strives to make mathematics accessible to everyone. Continuing on his mathematics mission, Marc Chamberland has authored Single Digits: In Praise of Small Numbers, a book that looks at the vast numerical possibilities that can come from the single digits. j10437Over the course of the coming weeks, we will be exploring the single digits in real life math situations with the author himself by featuring a series of original videos from Tipping Point Math.

Recently Chamberland gave the press a look at the inspiration behind the book, along with some personal insights on being a mathematician, and more:

What was the motivation behind your Tipping Point Math website?

MC: I have long felt that many people are sour on math because they think it is all technical stuff that leads to nowhere. I felt that if they could be exposed to the rich ideas and beauty of mathematics presented in an interesting way, their negative opinion could change.

I had wondered for a while how YouTube could be used since it is such a popular medium. In 2013, I reconnected with Henry Reich, a former student of mine, who created the highly successful channels MinutePhysics and MinuteEarth. With his inspiration and advice, I was convinced that a similar channel for mathematics was possible. Thus the concept of Tipping Point Math was born.

What is the biggest misunderstanding people have about your mathematics profession?

MC: Besides my remarks about people thinking that math is only about technical stuff, there is also the misconception that all of mathematics is known. This is not the case at all. New mathematics is being developed every day. This ranges from very abstract ideas to applications such as signal processing, medical imaging, population modeling, and computer algorithms.

What would you have been if not a mathematician?

MC: In my last year of high school, I developed an unquenchable thirst to explore two academic areas: mathematics and music. Since I eventually became a mathematics professor, I suppose one could say that mathematics “won”. But music was also consuming. I would ask myself, “Why does that piece of music sound so good? Why does it produce particular emotional states? How can I compose music that affects people in different ways?” To this day I still ask some of these questions, I occasionally compose short pieces, and I play the piano, guitar, and sing. Would I have been a musician? Is it too late to change?

What are you reading right now?

MC: I’m reading “The Alchemist” (by Paulo Coelho) out loud to my wife. The simple language and overflowing spirituality is stunning.

Who do you see as the audience for your book, Single Digits?

MC: My audience: those who love beauty. I did not choose topics for their depth or their technical superiority. I principally chose vignettes that I thought are beautiful.

World Environment Day 2015

Today, Friday, June 5 is World Environment Day. Organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the honorary day is hosted by a different country each year. This year the host country is Italy, and the theme is “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care.”

So how is World Environment Day different from Earth Day? Earth Day was established in 1970 as part of a movement for greater environmental awareness in the United States, while World Environment Day was established in 1972 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. While Earth Day is a day to raise awareness for the environment as a whole, World Environment Day is thematic. Last year the theme was “Raise Your Voice Not the Sea Level,” with emphasis placed on the health of our oceans. This year UNEP has placed the focus on consuming resources responsibly.

Here at Princeton University Press, we publish a wide range of titles for those that appreciate our beautiful planet. These include A Pocket Guide to Sharks of the World, Birds of Australia, and Offshore Sea Life ID Guide West and East, among many others.

If you would like to follow along with World Environment Day, use the hashtags #WorldEnvironmentDay and #WED15 on Twitter, and don’t forget to tweet pictures to us @PrincetonNature. We’d love to see them!

Book Fact Friday – African Safari

The Kingdon Field Guide to African MammalsFrom page 369 of The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals by Jonathan Kingdon:

The Ethiopian Wolf is highly vocal. Its calls include group yip-howls, a yelping bark, a two-phase bleating, and an explosive scream.

The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals
Second edition
Jonathan Kingdon
The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals is the essential companion for anyone going on safari or interested in African mammals—no other field guide covers the whole continent in a portable format. Now fully revised and updated, it covers all known species of African land mammals and features 780 stunning color illustrations. Detailed species accounts describe key identification features, distribution, habitat, food, behavior, adaptations, and conservation status. Coverage of several of the more complex groups of small mammals is simplified by reference to genera, and there are introductory profiles of each mammal group and more than 500 maps. This new edition includes many newly recognized species, and classification has been fully updated.
Written and illustrated by a world authority, The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals is a must-have guide for travelers and armchair naturalists alike.
• Covers more than 1,100 species
• Features 780 color illustrations
• Describes key identification features, distribution, habitat, food, behavior, adaptations, and status
• Includes many newly recognized species, and classification has been fully updated

#NewBooks from Princeton University Press

Books released spanning the weeks of May 26th and June 1st, 2015.

The past two weeks have been full of exciting new releases for Princeton University Press. Included is Stephen Macedo’s Just Married: Same-Sex Couples, Monogamy, and the Future of Marriage, which  takes an in-depth look at the convention of marriage in the modern age. Einstein fans will rejoice as a 100th anniversary edition of Albert Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and the General Theory is released. This new edition includes special features such as an authoritative English translation of the text, covers from selected early editions, and many more exciting extras. As history shows, the library is something that will never go out of style.  Alice Crawford’s The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History is full of illustrations and rich commentary, highlighting the significance of the library throughout history as well as evaluating its importance in the 21st century.

New in Hardcover

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New in Paperback

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Q&A with Scott L. Montgomery & Daniel Chirot, authors of The Shape of the New: Four Big Ideas and How They Made the Modern World

Scott L. Montgomery and Daniel Chirot, both of the University of Washington, recently sat down for a Q&A on their new book, The Shape of the New: Four Big Ideas and How They Made the Modern World. Read on to learn what these four Enlightenment ideas are, and why they remain so important to the understanding of the ideological and political conflicts of our own time.

The Shape of the New jacketWhy are ideas so important to the history of the modern world and also to understanding so much of the contemporary world?

Many of our social, cultural, and political perceptions have been shaped by big ideas first argued by long dead intellectuals.  For example, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton’s argument on the shape of democracy more than 200 years ago continues to play out today in American debates over the size and scope and purpose of government.

Why use the term ‘ideas’ rather than ideology?

Ideology refers largely to already fixed, hardened positions about certain policy choices. The ideas we cover were much broader.  The leading intellectuals who developed them understood many of the conflicting arguments and knew they had to argue their positions in order to have any lasting influence.

What are the “Four Big Ideas” of the title, and why do you focus on them?

Our focus is not on single concepts but entire systems of thought that have affected every level of social experience. Adam Smith wrote about the freedom that individuals must have to decide their material and moral lives and that, if attained, would create the most efficient, prosperous, and free society. Marx spoke of universal equality for humanity, a just and egalitarian world that would arrive due to scientific laws governing history. Darwin took evolution and turned it into a scientific theory of enormous force:  with natural selection as its main mechanism, it gave all life a secular history and human beings a new context liberated from ancient traditions of religious purpose and final principles. Finally, modern democracy gained its first major success through the founders of the United States, most notably Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, two brilliant but flawed men whose fierce debates set down essential patterns for how to imagine and institutionalize this new political system that has spread throughout large portions of the world.

You seem to suggest that the most powerful ideas have come from the Enlightenment and mainly from areas like political philosophy, economics, and theories of society or history? Is this correct?

Yes, partly but not political, economic, and social thought alone. Ideas of vital, even extraordinary influence also emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries from the sciences and from religious thought, as shown in our discussion of Darwin and religious fundamentalism in Christianity and Islam. Other domains of thought, such as art and literature, played major roles in the shaping and movement of key ideas.

What are some examples of what you call the “Counter Enlightenment”?

Some hostility came from organized religions that resisted the Enlightenment’s defense of freedom of thought and skepticism about fixed dogma. Much also came from elites opposed to democratization and increased freedom for everyone.  This Counter-Enlightenment has never gone away. Fascism and communism were based on powerful ideas that rejected much of the Enlightenment. Religious opposition remains in some fervent Christian denominations and  in radical Islam there remains bitter hostility to much of modern science and to any questioning of holy texts and authority. Rather than witnessing the continuing expansion of democracy and greater individual freedom that seemed to characterize the late 20th century, some governments, not least China and Russia, reject that side of the Enlightenment and propose instead illiberal forms of autocracy as better alternatives.

What does this have to do with the humanities and social sciences?

We strongly feel that college and university education no longer insists enough on the importance of teaching the ideas on which free, dynamic societies are based. To resist the paranoia about threats coming from all sorts of poorly understood sources we have to reaffirm the importance of the great ideas that shaped so much that we value, and make it known how those ideas were used to combat ignorance and opposition to freedom. Ultimately it is imperative that we understand the ideas that oppose what we value so that we are better equipped to fight against them.

Scott L. Montgomery is an affiliate faculty member in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. His books include Does Science Need a Global Language?: English and the Future of Research. Daniel Chirot is the Herbert J. Ellison Professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Washington. His books include Why Not Kill Them All?: The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder (Princeton). They both live in Seattle.

Book Fact Friday – Lady Beetles

From chapter 11 of Garden Insects of North America:

Most lady beetles lay between 5 and 30 orange-yellow eggs at a time. They are distinctive, but may sometimes resemble those of leaf beetles. Eggs are laid near colonies of insects to provide food for the larvae.

Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw

Garden Insects of North America is the most comprehensive and user-friendly guide to the common insects and mites affecting yard and garden plants in North America. In a manner no previous book has come close to achieving, through full-color photos and concise, clear, scientifically accurate text, it describes the vast majority of species associated with shade trees and shrubs, turfgrass, flowers and ornamental plants, vegetables, and fruits—1,420 of them, including crickets, katydids, fruit flies, mealybugs, moths, maggots, borers, aphids, ants, bees, and many, many more. For particularly abundant bugs adept at damaging garden plants, management tips are also included. Covering all of the continental United States and Canada, this is the definitive one-volume resource for amateur gardeners, insect lovers, and professional entomologists alike.

To ease identification, the book is organized by plant area affected (e.g., foliage, flowers, stems) and within that, by taxa. Close to a third of the species are primarily leaf chewers, with about the same number of sap suckers. Multiple photos of various life stages and typical plant symptoms are included for key species. The text, on the facing page, provides basic information on host plants, characteristic damage caused to plants, distribution, life history, habits, and, where necessary, how to keep “pests” in check–in short, the essentials to better understanding, appreciating, and tolerating these creatures.

Whether managing, studying, or simply observing insects, identification is the first step–and this book is the key. With it in hand, the marvelous microcosm right outside the house finally comes fully into view.

• Describes more than 1,400 species–twice as many as in any other field guide
• Full-color photos for most species–more than five times the number in most comparable guides
• Up-to-date pest management tips
• Organized by plant area affected and by taxa for easy identification
• Covers the continental United States and Canada
• Provides species level treatment of all insects and mites important to gardens
• Illustrates all life stages of key garden insects and commonly associated plant injuries
• Concise, clear, scientifically accurate text
• Comprehensive and user-friendly

Also by Whitney Cranshaw: Bugs Rule!: An Introduction to the World of Insects

In Memory of John and Alicia Nash

NashGradThe staff and community of Princeton University Press mourns the tragic loss of John and Alicia Nash. In 2001 we had the great privilege of publishing The Essential John Nash, a collection of Professor Nash’s scholarly articles edited by his biographer, Sylvia Nasar, and his longtime colleague and friend, Princeton mathematician Harold Kuhn, (now deceased). The Essential John Nash received impressive public exposure largely because it was published during the release of the Academy Award-winning movie version of Nash’s biography, A Beautiful Mind. Critics and readers admired The Essential John Nash as a faithful representation of Nash’s most important work, made available for a broadly intellectual audience of mathematicians and social scientists. Gratifying as this recognition was for us, during the course of publication, the staff members at PUP who worked on Professor Nash’s book had the great good fortune to get to know him and Alicia, two gentle and wonderful people. Our thoughts and prayers are with their family.

Peter J. Dougherty

Book Fact Friday – #8 Single Digits

From chapter eight of Marc Chamberland’s Single Digits:

How many times should you shuffle a deck of cards so that they’re well-mixed? Gamblers know that three or four times is not sufficient and take advantage of this fact. In 1992, researchers did computer simulations and estimated that seven rough riffle shuffles is a good amount. They took their research further and figured out that further shuffling does not significantly improve the mixing. If the shuffler does a perfect riffle shuffle (a Faro shuffle), in which s/he perfectly cuts the deck and shuffles so that each card from one side alternates with each card from the other side, then a standard 52-card deck will end in the same order that it started in after it is done 8 times.

Single Digits: In Praise of Small Numbers by Marc Chamberland
Read chapter one or peruse the table of contents.

The numbers one through nine have remarkable mathematical properties and characteristics. For instance, why do eight perfect card shuffles leave a standard deck of cards unchanged? Are there really “six degrees of separation” between all pairs of people? And how can any map need only four colors to ensure that no regions of the same color touch? In Single Digits, Marc Chamberland takes readers on a fascinating exploration of small numbers, from one to nine, looking at their history, applications, and connections to various areas of mathematics, including number theory, geometry, chaos theory, numerical analysis, and mathematical physics.
Each chapter focuses on a single digit, beginning with easy concepts that become more advanced as the chapter progresses. Chamberland covers vast numerical territory, such as illustrating the ways that the number three connects to chaos theory, an unsolved problem involving Egyptian fractions, the number of guards needed to protect an art gallery, and problematic election results. He considers the role of the number seven in matrix multiplication, the Transylvania lottery, synchronizing signals, and hearing the shape of a drum. Throughout, he introduces readers to an array of puzzles, such as perfect squares, the four hats problem, Strassen multiplication, Catalan’s conjecture, and so much more. The book’s short sections can be read independently and digested in bite-sized chunks—especially good for learning about the Ham Sandwich Theorem and the Pizza Theorem.
Appealing to high school and college students, professional mathematicians, and those mesmerized by patterns, this book shows that single digits offer a plethora of possibilities that readers can count on.

History & Philosophy of Science 2015 Catalog

Our History & Philosophy of Science 2015 catalog is now available.

Be sure to check out The Quotable Feynman, a collection of about 500 quotations from Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman (1918-88), compiled by his daughter, Michelle Feynman. Read it cover-to-cover or flip to a specific section, from childhood to religion, from family to politics.

Looking for a comprehensive and authoritative guide to everything Albert Einstein? An Einstein Encyclopedia is your indispensible resource. The book contains entries on a range of topics, including his romantic relationships, hobbies, educational affiliations, and friends. Written by three leading Einstein scholars, researchers and those with a casual curiosity alike will find much to interest them. And don’t forget to scroll to page 3 of the catalog for a wealth of additional Einstein-related titles, including Relativity: 100th Anniversary Edition and Einstein and the Quantum.

Finally, the richly illustrated Mathematics and Art is written by Lynn Gamwell, a cultural historian of both topics. Gamwell shows how mathematics and art have informed and influenced one another from antiquity to the present.

We invite you to look through our catalog and learn about many more new titles in History & Philosophy of Science.

If you’d like updates on new titles sent directly to your inbox, subscribe here.

#MammothMonday: PUP’s pups sound off on How to Clone a Mammoth

The idea of cloning a mammoth, the science of which is explored in evolutionary biologist and “ancient DNA expert” Beth Shapiro’s new book, How to Clone a Mammoth, is the subject of considerable debate. One can only imagine what the animal kingdom would think of such an undertaking, but wonder no more. PUP staffers were feeling “punny” enough to ask their best friends:


Chester reads shapiro

Chester can’t get past “ice age bones”.


Buddy reads shapiro

Buddy thinks passenger pigeons would be so much more civilized… and fun to chase.


Tux reads shapiro

Tux always wanted to be an evolutionary biologist…


Stella reads Shapiro

Stella thinks 240 pages on a glorified elephant is a little excessive. Take her for a walk.


Murphy reads shapiro

A mammoth weighs how much?! Don’t worry, Murphy. The tundra is a long way from New Jersey.


Glad we got that out of our systems. Check out a series of original videos on cloning from How to Clone a Mammoth author Beth Shapiro here.

Warbler Guide Giveaway!

Good news for all of the birders out there! With warbler migration season upon us, it’s time for a giveaway. Three winners will receive a copy of The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle and The Warbler Guide app. Follow the directions below—the entry period ends May 29!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A Mere Philosopher?

The Physicist and the Philosopher by Jimena CanalesOn the 6th of April, 1922, two men met at the Société française de philosophie to discuss relativity and the nature of time. One was the winner of the previous year’s Nobel Prize in Physics, Albert Einstein, renowned for a series of extraordinary innovations in scientific theory. The other was the French philosopher, Henri Bergson. In The Physicist and the Philosopher, Jimena Canales recounts the events of that meeting, and traces the public controversy that unfolded over the years that followed. Bergson was perceived to have lost the debate and, more generally, philosophy to have lost the authority to speak on matters of science.

Perhaps the greatest evidence of that loss is that it is hard to imagine an equivalent meeting today, the great physicist and the great philosopher debating as equals. While the physical sciences enjoy unprecedented prestige and funding on university campuses, many philosophy departments face cutbacks. Yet less than a century ago, Henri Bergson enjoyed enormous celebrity. His lecture at Columbia University in 1913 resulted in the first traffic jam ever seen on Broadway. His work was translated into multiple languages, influencing not only his fellow philosophers but also artists and writers (Willa Cather named one of her characters after Bergson). His writings on evolutionary theory earned him the condemnation of the Catholic Church. Students were crowded out of his classes at the Collège de France by the curious public.

The young Bergson showed promise in mathematics, but chose instead to study humanities at the École Normale. His disappointed math teacher commented “you could have been a mathematician; you will be a mere philosopher” — a harbinger of later developments? Einstein and his supporters attacked Bergson’s understanding of relativity and asserted that philosophy had no part to play in grasping the nature of time. Bergson countered that, on the contrary, it was he who had been misunderstood, but to no avail: the Einstein/Bergson debate set the tone for a debate on the relationship between philosophy and the sciences that continues to this day. At a recent roundtable discussion hosted by Philosophy Now, biologist Lewis Wolpert dismissed philosophy as “irrelevant” to science. In this, do we hear an echo of Einstein’s claim that time can be understood either psychologically or physically, but not philosophically?