Errata for the Thinking Better book and some commentary

This post is a continuation of the previous one about Thinking Better book (ISBN-13 ‏: ‎978-1541600362) by Marcus du Sautoy published in North America by Basic Books.

It seems like I was too eager to praise the book after reading just a few dozens of pages. Even though, on average the book is interesting to read, there were a number of things that could make the content of the Thinking Better even better. For example, having more diagrams accompanying the explanations for various concepts could be helpful. Having footnotes to provide more details or sources for cited papers could be helpful too etc.


Having found a number of possible mistakes in the book I was sure that notifying Basic Books publishing about them would be valuable and they’d be happy to review and, if required, correct the content of the book. But since I’ve sent an email to the customer support there, I didn’t hear back. Below comes the table of potential issues that I was able to find while reading the book.

Page #Actual contentSuggested contentComments
p.107However, I’m going to give Eratosthenes high marks for his calculation for the circumference of the earth because it is inspired.However, I’m going to give Eratosthenes high marks for his calculation of the circumference of the earth because it is inspiring.This seems like a spelling mistake.
p. 129It will also be to do with the nature of the rock, if the rock is very non-friable and firm.It will also have to do with the nature of the rock, if the rock is very non-friable and firm.This seems like a spelling mistake.
p. 149Figure 5.9. Feynman diagram of the interaction between an electron and a positron

The right diagram of electron-positron scattering can be found at the link below
Bhabha scattering.
You can tell it by the sign above ‘e’. Electron has ‘e-’, while positron ‘e+’.
The diagram in the book is for interaction between an electron and an electron namely,
Møller scattering

Some other suggestions

The suggestions below are based on my experience with reading dozens of popular-science books on mathematics, physics neuroscience and biology.

Diagram and Figures

The book has a number of diagrams in each chapter. Though most of them are helpful, some are not. The main issue I see with the diagrams in the book is that even though they are numbered, just like in the table above, that number isn’t referenced in the body of the book. This makes it hard to related the diagram to the content where it was mentioned.

There are places that I would add diagrams to clarify the content, since without having a diagram it is difficult to imagine what the text represent. Or it takes quite some time to understand author’s intent. For example, Figure 3.2. Six pyramids make a cuboid on page 84, is very confusing to say the least (no diagram is shown in my post due to copyright issues).

One additional example is when the sieve of Eratosthenes was mentioned on page 106. Usually, this method is visualized by a diagram, which helps a lot in understanding it. For a good visual example refer to the chapter 7 in the Prime Obsession book by John Derbyshire. Also check Wikipedia article about the sieve of Eratosthenes.

Missing footnotes or notes

I agree that not all popular science books have footnotes or notes, but this particular book mentions a number of other books, papers and authors. Having footnotes or notes at the end of the book could have been beneficial to a curious reader. One of the papers cited in the book, had the names of the authors incorrect. For example, in the chapter 9, on page 261 it is written

Two mathematicians Duncan Watts and Steve Strogatz, discovered the secret, which they published in a paper in Nature in 1998.

The paper was Collective dynamics of ‘small-world’ networksNature 393, 440–442 (1998). And the authors were Duncan Watts and Steven Strogatz.

Missing bibliography

There are no references in the book. Bibliography is also not a mandatory part of popular science books, but in most of the ones I read it was there and helped find similar books on the subject or get more details about specific topics mentioned in the book.

Too harsh a criticism?

All in all, despite the drawbacks I mentioned above the book was worth reading. I think my criticism has to do with that fact that the Music of The Primes book, also written by Marucs du Satouy in 2003 didn’t have most of the issue I brought in this post.


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