Skip to main content

Venn That Tune - Andrew Viner ****

There is something delightful about a book that combines mathematical/graphical notation with the names of pop songs. This unashamed gift book has a series of pages, each illustrating one song title using a diagram. About a half are Venn diagrams with the rest being various forms of chart, some more obscure than others. This is much easier to see than understand from a description. Here’s the diagram that’s on the cover of the book a little more clearly:
The idea is to guess the tune from the diagram (I love this particular example). There are answers in the back, but for one like this you shouldn’t need to check it – it’s like a good crossword clue, when you get the answer, it’s obviously right.
One of the reason this particular one works well is that the song is well-known. With some of the more obscure numbers (for example It’s ‘Orrible Being in Love (When you’re 8½)) it’s not quite such a certain experience, so you are more likely to approximate to the answer than get it spot on, unless you have a passion for obscure song titles.
This is an ideal gift – especially for someone who’s mathematically or musically minded (or even both). I’ll certainly be buying a few. It’s one of those classic ‘books I probably wouldn’t buy myself, but I’d love to be given’ presents. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t available in the US until after Christmas 2008 – it’ll have to be a birthday present instead there.
Of course there are plenty of tunes missing – Andrew Viner admits he ran out of space (I wanted to see ‘Venn you walk all alone, keep your head up high’, which I know technically isn’t the title of the song, but hey) – but those that are there will keep anyone with an enquiring mind and a sense of fun amused and entertained. Recommended.

Hardback:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Quantum Menagerie - James Stone ***

This is a well-structured introduction to the mathematical basics of quantum mechanics, highly recommended for the right readers. Stone wisely, in terms of introducing the physics, avoids a purely chronological approach, instead aiming to fit together a picture in the way that makes it easiest for readers to get their heads around, building mathematically through the book. Stone does a good, solid job of this. In the book's preface, he tells us 'Books on quantum mechanics come in two basic formats: popular science books and textbooks. By contrast, this book represents a middle way between these formats, combining the informal approach of popular science books with the mathematical rigour of introductory textbooks... The material in this book should be accessible to anyone with an understanding of basic calculus.' The approach and the resultant impact on its audience is interesting. Providing something in-between popular science and a textbook is an interesting concept, but

Fundamentals - Frank Wilczek ****

In keeping with the trend of having seven this or ten that (Carlo Rovelli has a lot to answer for), physicist Frank Wilzek sets out to give us 'ten keys to reality'. As Wilczek explains in his introduction, the aim is to explore two themes: abundance and seeing things differently, with a childlike curiosity and lack of preconceptions. The author also points out that he aims to offer an alternative to religious fundamentalism. As he notes, many of his scientific heroes were devout Christians, and he 'aims to transcend specific dogmas, whether religious or anti-religious'. In essence there are two things going on in this book. On the one hand, each of the ten main sections covers a fairly straightforward aspect of physics and cosmology, though not from the viewpoint of a physical theory so much as context such as space, time, natural laws and so on - in this, it will be familiar ground to anyone who has read a popular science physics primer. But the aspect that lifts Wilc

A Song for Molly - Jeremy Bernstein ***

This is quite probably the strangest popular science/maths book I have ever read. There have been a good few attempts to combine science writing with fiction, as A Song for Molly does. It's a great idea, but from the results I have seen so far, extremely difficult to do well. What Jeremy Bernstein does is different from anything I've seen before, and in some aspects works very well. Let's start with what I love about this book. Every now and then I have lunch with the varied collection of individuals who once made up the Lancaster University Christmas University Challenge team. We're a very different bunch, and the group includes brilliant raconteurs. The lunches are a delight, in part because of the way the conversation ranges far and wide. There is a similar joy in Bernstein's range of interests as his book skips from the ideas of Wittgenstein to the attempts to decipher Linear A/B, from Cantor's ideas on infinity to game theory. It really feels like sitting