Reviewed by J Craddock
Written by a professor of mathematical sciences and director of the Millennium Mathematics Project at Cambridge University, Mathletics offers an intriguing insight into how maths and science can open up the world of sport, our understanding and appreciation of it.
In recent years there has been a surge in sports science which has revolutionised sport in many ways through ideas such as biomechanics, aerodynamics and technology. We have seen the approaches to sport change and as a result records have been broken and interesting, new techniques have emerged and the way we look at and analyse sport has completely shifted. Yet sport and maths may seem like two completely different worlds. In Mathletics, however, John Barrow demonstrates how maths is fundamental to sport and its future possibilities and offers a welcome insight into the value of maths and its real life applications.
From the most popular sports of football and athletics through the specialist sports of archery, diving and modern pentathlon and everything in between, Barrow addresses 100 different matters that bring together sport and maths in short, concise chapters. Whilst some of these ideas are less appealing and engaging than others, there is something for all sports fans in this book and you certainly come way from it having at least learned a thing or two. However, at times the maths can appear a bit daunting and challenging for the non-mathematically inclined and it is easy to want to skip over the heavy mathematical explanations that are the crux of this book. For some it will be a reminder of why they never liked maths! Indeed, some of the equations are enough to get the pulse going as if you’d run a marathon and at times I felt that actual examples rather than equations would have been more beneficial. Indeed, I felt the book was at its strongest and most accessible when it applied the maths with real figures, or indeed when the maths was less obtrusive as in the first chapter where there are no equations or mathematical rules only the simple fact of times and wind speeds. But whilst some of it is baffling and too dense for the less mathematical of minds, some of it really works and everyone will find at least a couple of chapters that really interest and surprise them. So whether or not maths is your thing, this is a really interesting and original premise that will certainly make you think again about what you know about sport and perhaps make you watch it in an entirely new light.
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