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Humble Pi

When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World
Written by: Matt Parker
Narrated by: Matt Parker
Length: 9 hrs and 33 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (45 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Number one international best seller

An Adam Savage Book Club Pick

The book-length answer to anyone who ever put their hand up in math class and asked, "When am I ever going to use this in the real world?"

"Fun, informative, and relentlessly entertaining, Humble Pi is a charming and very readable guide to some of humanity's all-time greatest miscalculations - that also gives you permission to feel a little better about some of your own mistakes." (Ryan North, author of How to Invent Everything)

Our whole world is built on math, from the code running a website to the equations enabling the design of skyscrapers and bridges. Most of the time, this math works quietly behind the scenes...until it doesn’t. All sorts of seemingly innocuous mathematical mistakes can have significant consequences.

Math is easy to ignore until a misplaced decimal point upends the stock market, a unit conversion error causes a plane to crash, or someone divides by zero and stalls a battleship in the middle of the ocean.

Exploring and explaining a litany of glitches, near misses, and mathematical mishaps involving the internet, big data, elections, street signs, lotteries, the Roman Empire, and an Olympic team, Matt Parker uncovers the bizarre ways math trips us up, and what this reveals about its essential place in our world. Getting it wrong has never been more fun.

©2020 Matt Parker (P)2020 Penguin Audio

What the critics say

"Parker is consistently very funny...highly entertaining." (The Guardian)

"Parker has a sly wit.... A clever, amusing book about some of life’s more serious problems; highly recommended." (Library Journal)

"A fascinating and deeply surprising journey into the hilarious and sometimes tragic realm of mathematical error. Brilliant." (Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist and Messy)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Fun Listen

Had a lot of fun listening to this book. I've always enjoyed math stories and quirks. Matt Parker does a great job narrating, and his humour really shines through in the performance.

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Just like watching YouTube. Very entertaining.

Matt is a great speaker and storyteller. Interesting stories that are true make it even more of a listening experience. I'm techie enough to enjoy the in depth aspects of the events but it was not necessary to enjoy oneself.

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Matt Parker is amazing!

Matt Parker has an amazing talent for blending the arts of teaching and entertaining. Great job as always, very enjoyable book.

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Nice reading but overwhelming

At the begining it was an interesting read, as I move on it was very hard to keep up with all the numbers especially with this audio version, stopped midway and could not finish it

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  • A
  • 2020-02-01

Missing something from the physical book

I really enjoyed this book. Matt Parker's narration was authentic, comedic (throughout most of the book you could HEAR him smiling), and made the stories enjoyable. My only gripe is that the book has several pictures and diagrams which Matt had to verbally explain ("In the book, I've included a picture of [this] with the caption [this]"). Would have really loved if Audible added the pictures as additional content.

The book also has several large numbers and code snippets (which Matt summarizes in the audiobook by saying, e.g. "one four seven three eight six two, a bunch of numbers, six three eight"). Not having the full numbers doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the book as much as not having images, however.

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  • C. White
  • 2020-01-23

Fascinating & enlightening even for da mathphobic✏️

I avoid math like the plague. I fully believe it is a cruel curse perpetrated upon human kind by a vengeful and sadistic universe... But even with that said... I really enjoyed this book! Not only did Matt Parker neatly explain to me why math is not an intrinsic human concept, but he did it within the first chapter and then quickly moved on to far more interesting stories of numerical failure. I found it to completely captivate most of my attention for the bulk of its 9 hours run time. I have seldom listened to a complete audio book in a single marathon session, but "Humble Pi" is now permanently inscribed on that exclusive list of titles (who needs a rocking playlist on a road trip when you’ve got a good audiobook?). I was also extremely impressed by Matt's narrational skills. All too often when a book is narrated by its author, the reading is flat and unprofessional, but in this narration, Matt actually seems to be having fun reading his work (a fact punctuated by near giggles in his voice as he makes his way through some of the more humorous mathematical anecdotes). Each tale of mathematical failure is often presented much like an auditory version of the ubiquitous YouTube Top-10 historical-something-or-other-videos, but a lot more fun and considerably less sinister. I will admit, that this book may not be for everyone. There were lengthy moments in each story vignette where I found my attention wandering, my eyes glazing over, and my math-allergic brain was simply not taking in the numerical details of the story (a phenomenon often associated with audiobooks compared to their printed brethren), but overall I still felt that I understood the mathematical moral of each story. If you are a fan of Randall Munroe and his "What if/How to" books, or Matt’s own YouTube channel, then you wont be disappointed with this fine (albeit nerdy) book. Long live the math nerd!

4 people found this helpful

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  • R. MCRACKAN
  • 2020-02-03

Like it was written just for me

It's like this book was written just for me. Which may or may not be a good thing. Humble Pi is full of exactly the kinds of oddball edge cases of science, math, and computers which I can't get enough of, and I love to tell to other people, and they get increasingly glazed expressions wondering when I'll be done so we can talk about something more interesting. Now I have loads more stories like this.

My only complaint is that huge numbers are really intuitive in print but can be confusing to listen to. Consider the difference between 14,500, fourteen thousand five hundred, and one four five zero zero. This is even harder to digest with 4,294,967,295 which is an important number in computers and is referenced a few times in this book.

Other than this unavoidable side effect, and he does his best to compensate, this is an unbelievable book about the real world impact of math gone wrong -- especially in modern times and also throughout civilization.

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  • Zack
  • 2020-03-11

It was interesting

There was some really interesting topics covered and stories to tell that would I think if discussed in classrooms would make math more interesting. Some of the stories though just werent as interesting or would be a repeat of a computer just not being able to handle such a large number. Overall as a Mechanical Engineer I enjoyed it and would reccomend to anyone that has a passion for others mistakes.

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  • Cody
  • 2020-02-29

The most interesting book on math I have ever listened to

To be fair this is the o my book on Math that I have ever listened too, but I found it to be engaging and quite interesting. Once you get used to math being pronounced maths the author reading his own stuff it’s great. His enthusiasm for the material comes through in every word. Additionally I would say he has armed me with countless dad jokes for the days in my future helping teach my children math when that day comes. I ended up getting the book because a work mate stumbled upon his Arturo regarding Pepsi being sued for a harder jet and after that I needed the book. All in all one of the better listens of the several hundred audio books I have and would highly recommend. An extra benefit is how he breaks down mistakes, any who manages people or works in project management should listen to this as it will change they way you go about root cause analysis. Hope you enjoy.

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  • Sam G
  • 2020-02-20

Unexpected thriller

I’ve enjoyed Parker’s work on YouTube and In various other places for years and was thrilled to find that the audio book had finally been released in the US. I quickly downloaded it to my app and bought a physical copy to help increase the mass of my house.

I waited for my next flight, fired up the audible app, and boy was I in for a surprise. The vast majority, it seemed to me at the time, of the stories in the book are about plane disasters. Which isn’t precisely the kind of story I necessarily want to hear while sitting physically in a plane. But I got through it and loved it, disaster stories and all.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2020-02-13

Feels like 80% was on YouTube

Don't get me wrong, it's a great book but Matt Parker recycled a lot of his material through his YouTube channel. The book got kind of repetitive for me personally because I watch a lot of his videos over and over again. Still, I really love his work and there are a number of gems between the stories you've already heard.

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  • kushp1866
  • 2020-01-24

fascinating

it was a super interesting listen. managed to keep the narration lighthearted while also being solemn on the appropriate times.

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  • John M. Dunn
  • 2020-05-03

Loved it, I already started over, listening again

It was great, I love Matt Parker, I'm glad he added some fun interjections in the audio version. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again, so I started it over. I've been telling all my less nerdy friends about the stories.

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  • Campion Quinn, MD
  • 2020-05-02

Quirky

A quirky but enjoyable read. The stories are as engaging as the author is enthusiastic.

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  • Cal Rastall
  • 2020-04-12

Hope you like coding as much as math for this one.

At times I became turned around and lost, but great narration. Would help if I was a computer coder. Sam Kean's books on science more interesting for beginners into a field.