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The Joy of Math - review

The Joy of Mathematics is a delightful overview of mathematics brought to us by the Teaching Company as part of The Great Courses series. Professor Arthur Benjamin is a dynamic and engaging speaker, who clearly knows his subject matter backwards, forwards, and upside down. Benjamin is a math professor from Harvey Mudd College. His clear communication style is refreshing and his lectures truly entertaining. This is no surprise, when one considers that he is also a trained magician, who has studied the art of entertainment. He knows how to speak to his audience, and his passion for mathematics is very apparent.

The Joy of Math contains a total of 24 individual 30 minute lectures. I received a set of four dvds accompanied by a transcript and course guidebook. The first disc contains the easiest material, and the last, the most difficult. The presenter occasionally mentions a fact learned in a previous session, but we skipped around a bit and did not suffer from too much lack of continuity. I watched these lectures with my 12 year old son, who was already a fan of Dr. Benjamin's after attending one of his fantastic “mathemagic” presentations and obtaining a copy of Benjamin's book, “ Secrets of Mental Math:The Mathemagician's Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricks.” My son enjoyed these lectures tremendously, and often paused the lectures to share his own comments and observations, and also to predict what might be coming up next.

Disc one contains the following segments:
1.The Joy of Math-The Big Picture
2.The Joy of Numbers
3.The Joy of Primes
4.The Joy of Counting
5.The Joy of Fibonacci Numbers
6.The Joy of Algebra

The first six lectures may be interesting to younger or less competent math students, but lectures 7-12 are better appreciated by math students who have mastered algebra and had some exposure to geometry. Similarly, it will be helpful for students to have some knowledge of of trigonometry and calculus before watching the rest of the sessions, with the exception of those at the very end. Discs two to four have these lectures:

7. The Joy of Higher Algebra
8.The Joy of Algebra Made Visual
9.The Joy of 9
10.The Joy of Proofs
11.The Joy of Geometry
12.The Joy of Pi
13.The Joy of Trigonometry
14.The Joy of the Imaginary Number i
15.The Joy of the Number e
16.The Joy of Infinity
17.The Joy of Infinite Series
18.The Joy of Differential Calculus
19.The Joy of Approximating with Calculus
20.The Joy of Integral Calculus
21.The Joy of Pascal's Triangle
22.The Joy of Probability
23.The Joy of Mathematical Games
24.the Joy of Mathematical Magic

This is a great refresher course for adults who are returning to school, or a fun supplemental course for “mathy” kids. Gifted and high ability math students who memorize digits of pi for fun or think square roots are cool will find this series exceptionally fantabulous. Dr. Benjamin's playful manner and penchant for poems, puns, and wordplay will be sure to amuse as well as educate. His enthusiasm is contagious. He explains Fibonacci numbers using a story about multiplying rabbits and probability with a horse (Harvey the Mudder!) who likes to run in the mud. Here's a math poem that he wrote to honor the number e:

I think that I shall never see,
A number lovelier than e.
Whose digits are too great to state,
They're 2.71828.
And e has such amazing features,
It's loved by all, but mostly teachers.
With all of e's great properties,
Most integrals are done with e's.
Theorems are proved by fools like me,
But only Euler could make an e.

It's obvious that this guy really loves his work!

Throughout the course, sample math problems are solved on screen using a virtual chalkboard, so each step is shown in sequence. Viewers are advised to repeat any sections that are not immediately clear. The companion guide has a helpful glossary, suggested reading lists, and internet resources to augment the course.

I highly recommend The Joy of Math for math lovers of any age, and also for those who might learn to love it with just a little encouragement.

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