Mathletics: A Scientist Explains 100 Amazing Things About the World of Sport
John D. Barrow
In a way, everything kind of boils down to mathematics. As someone who is normally sports-crazed, and even more so in an Olympic year, the intersection of physics and human physicality is one that has always fascinated me. When I saw Mathletics, therefore, I needed no second look to immediately yank it off of the shelf. Within, I found a group of loosely related, not-at-all organized tidbits about math and its effects on aspects of numerous sports, a marginally disappointing collection that nonetheless lived up to its billing, if a bit too literally. It's unclear who Barrow's intended audience is, and his general audience may be put off by the complex mathematical calculations and "trust me" attitude. Surely more of the math could be put in layman's terms? The frenetic pace of the book doesn’t help much, either. Though Barrow's inclination to organize the book as a series of vignettes is appreciated, readers are whipped back and forth between types of questions and types of sports, never able to gain a foothold on the subject at hand before the next approaches. And, most disappointingly, the book minimizes the magic of sports and fails to capture the intangibles that make sports so enjoyable and unpredictable. Sure, this is a book about the hard math behind human achievement, but in execution it sucks more of the life out of the subject than may have been necessary. Chapters on certain subjects, such as the real weight of individual events in sports such as the decathlon and modern pentathlon, are enlightening and intriguing, but most of the book passes by in a flurry of numbers and variables, without many conclusions actually sticking in the reader's mind. Mathletics lives up to its billing, but it's a billing that sells the subject matter short, and one that might alienate the most interested readers.