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A New Approach to Learning Math

 

Mathematics is beautiful—literally. Don’t believe me? Find a pretty flower, or a picture of the most handsome person you can think of. Now measure the proportions—for example, the ratio of face length to face width. You’ll likely find the “golden ratio” lurking somewhere (approximately 1.618), or perhaps one of its variants. These numbers also show up in other beautiful objects, including the pyramid of Giza, spiral galaxies, and sunflowers. This power of mathematics to connect seemingly unrelated things together, albeit in a sneaky, hidden way, extends far beyond these examples. We may not realize it, but we’re surrounded by math.

Most people these days learn math from textbooks. But that’s not what Galileo or Newton did. They used the world around them to help discover and invent new mathematics.  That’s what this site is about, and what my writing aims to do: help you learn math by using your everyday experiences. As the ancient proverb goes:

 

“Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.” —Chinese proverb



Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 14, 2014); 168 pages



Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 18, 2017); 168 pages

Read the reviews of my books below, and check out their dedicated pages (accessible through the top menu bar) for bonus features and more information.

 

Selected Reviews

 

For Everyday Calculus:

One of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Books for General Audiences and Young Adults

“This is a well-written, whimsical way of seeing calculus at work in our everyday life…The strongest part of this book is the professor’s very clear and humorous writing style. It really makes a tough subject more fun.” Bassocantor (Top 500 Reviewer on Amazon.com)

“Professor Fernandez is a delightfully quirky writer and his book Everyday Calculus is lighthearted and compelling, connecting mathematics to daily life. . . . Everyday Calculus will not only be found to be understandable by non-mathematicians but will also be found to be quite entertaining. Indeed, not everyone considers the calculus going on inside Tandoori ovens, and they should.”–Robert Schaefer, New York Journal of Books

“For every befuddled math student who’s ever sat in class and thought, ‘When am I ever going to use this?’ Fernandez, assistant professor of mathematics at Wellesley College, gleefully reveals the truth: the world really does run on math. . . . Whether describing how biology uses math to design more efficient organs and body structures or the best way to figure out when to overhaul a subway car, Fernandez keeps the tone light, as entertaining as it is informative. The book will speak most strongly to readers with some experience in trigonometry and basic calculus, but it’s also accessible to those willing to put in a little extra effort. Either way, Fernandez’s witty, delightful approach makes for a winning introduction to the wonderland of math behind the scenes of everyday life.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 

For The Calculus of Happiness:

“Brilliant. . . . Where Fernandez’s book scores highly is that it goes beyond being a typical self-help manual for the numerate, by presenting example after example of how mathematical topics such as probability, game theory and exponential functions really do make sense of a world that can sometimes seem so subjective. It’s also an easy-going analysis of those areas in life that get brushed under the carpet, to be attended to another day. Once you realise it all boils down to maths, you will wake up happier, wealthier and healthier tomorrow morning, and we have Oscar E. Fernandez to thank for that.” Nick Smith, Engineering & Technology (full review here)

“Surveys a wide variety of ways that mathematics can be used to improve decision making and general well-being. . . . [Fernandez] believes that even a smidgeon of algebra can encapsulate a lot of wisdom.”TIME.com

“I absolutely love this book. The mathematics described is beautiful and accessible and, most important of all, truly meaningful and relevant.”–James Tanton, author of Without Words: Mathematical Puzzles to Confound and Delight

“With its appealing informal style, choice of topics inspired by everyday life, and links to the relevant mathematical concepts and methods, this book shows how mathematics can improve one’s quality of life. From healthy eating to managing the monthly budget, readers will look at their daily activities from an angle they may have never thought of.” –Max Alekseyev, The George Washington University

“[E]ngaging. . . . Readers are sure to get a sense of how content from algebra and precalculus can help inform us about important decisions that are almost universally relevant.”Jason M. Graham, MAA Reviews

 

About the Author

 

Who I Am

I am an assistant professor of mathematics at Wellesley College. I’m an applied mathematician by training—I earned my Ph.D. in Applied and Interdisciplinary Mathematics from the University of Michigan in 2009—and that means I’m very interested in the applications of math to other subjects like physics and economics. I see the world through a math lens and can’t help but notice the hidden math behind just about everything. My books, Everyday Calculus and The Calculus of Happiness, both explore the hidden math all around us.

 

What Inspires My Writing

There are plenty of books out there that discuss the applications of math, but these applications talk about things many of us will never experience—like space shuttle launches or radiocarbon dating—or care little about (like a ladder falling down, the classic “application” of related rates in calculus). I like to write instead about the hidden math behind everyday things and events. This way readers have an instant connection to the mathematics being discussed. I also want to make my writing as accessible as possible. That’s why, for example, I move the calculations of the math discussed in my books to the appendixes and keep the equations in the body of text to a minimum.

I first followed this structure with Everyday Calculus, where I focused on uncovering the hidden calculus behind everyday events and activities. In my second book, The Calculus of Happiness, I focus on the mathematics behind health, personal finance, and love. It turns out that, when analyzed the right away, the equations and concepts involved can be leveraged to improve one’s own health, finances, and relationships. This illustrates well another theme of my writing: to convince readers that math is not only applicable, but empowering too. I’ve recently started creating a variety of interactive math applets to illustrate this point. These applets help readers engage with mathematics and personalize the results; the growing list of applets is archived on the Interactive Math Applets page.

More broadly, making connections between math and seemingly non-mathematical things is what this website is all about. I write about these on the Blog, on Twitter (@EverydayCalc), and on The Huffington Post.

 

My Research

In addition to writing about math, I also do research in math. I study physical systems that roll—like cars and bowling balls—and try to describe their dynamics using a variety of results from different subfields of math. You can read more at my research here, where you’ll also find a list of my research publications. You can also download my CV here.

I update this site often, and if you’re interested in receiving email updates when new content is added, feel free to sign up below.

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I hope you enjoy the site,

Oscar E. Fernandez