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Book Report by Artsy Fartsy Mama

You will write your first book report about the book Factfulness.

Depending upon the grade you are aiming for, you may write other book reports on any book that has advance instructor permission.

The books below are in our classroom library. Not only are they free to borrow, but they are known to be interesting to read, practical and helpful for nearly anyone with a job, and using enough math to be called a "math book" without being burdened down with advanced math.

For all your book reports, prepare by pretending you run a small business. It does have multiple items for sale. But it is so small it has few other employees, if any.

Culinary students could use a food cart, small restaurant, or small catering service. Early Childhood Education students could use a tutoring or home child care businesss. Nursing students could use a rural cash-only personal practice. Etc.

Each book report needs:

Classroom Library

Factfulness book cover Factfulness by Hans Rosling and his family is currently one of the most important books in the world.

First, a bit of history. Hans Rosling presented two TED talks in 2010 about global population growth and global demographics. In 2014 he returned and presented about how most people are incredibly ignorant about what the world is really like and how it is changing, especially about population growth. He founded a website named GapMinder to work on correcting misconceptions based on outdated stereotypes..

The book Factfulness is his inspiring and enlightening finale. It has two parts.

First, it talks about many examples of how people and the planet are doing much better than most people realize. It uses charts and statistics but is quick to read and not burdened down by the math.

Factfulness book cover Second, and most relevant to our class, is the book's discussions about why most people are ignorant about those issues. There are Ten Rules of Thumb about how our brains naturally latch onto dramatic information instead of accurate information. Thus Factfulness is also guidebook for learning to use math to see the world more clearly, with better habits.


Freakonomics book cover Freakonomics (Revised and Expanded Edition) by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner has become the classic introduction to behavioral economics.

The phrase "behavioral economics" was invented because of two trends. It is a response to classical economics, which ignores how most shopping behavior is based upon loyalty to a store, brand, or habit instead of a fully-reasearched pursuit of the best deal. It also extends economics by looking at non-economic behaviors using classical ways to measure and discuss incentives, options risks, and equilibria.

Freakonomics is fun to read, and also helpful for learning to use math to see the world more clearly.

The authors host a podcast to continue sharing their favorite examples of behavioral economics.


Priced book cover Priced to Influence, Sell & Satisfy by Utpal Dholakia is a great introduction to pricing issues.

A specific kind of behavioral economics is how to pick prices for retail or menu items. Everyone has heard about how a price of $4.99 appears to be a better deal than $5 despite a mere one cent difference. There are actually dozens of behavior issues about pricing. This book is very readable as an introduction to the topic. It remains clear, yet goes into many issues quite deeply.

During class we will learn the basics of markup, discount, and menu pricing. This book goes much further. It might also be more fun.


Game Theory book cover The Complete Idiot's Guide to Game Theory by Edward C. Rosenthal is the best introduction to its topic.

A deeper layer of behavioral economics is considering how your competitors are doing business. Not only will good decisions about pricing depend on your customers, they also depend on your competition.

The study of competitive decision-making is called game theory. Finding an easy to read book about game theory can be tricky. Most dive into complicated math right away. Yet this book is great. It teaches enough to be of practical help in business decisions, without burdensome math. Every topic is accessible, even if you skip certain extra-complicated parts at the end of a few chapters.

This book is not as fun to read as the books above, but might make a big difference in how profitably you run a business.


Contractor Pricing book cover Markup & Profit: A Contractor's Guide, Revisited by Michael C. Stone is a specialized introduction to pricing for contractors.

A contractor's bid is like a small business plan. All pricing must consider materials and labor. But for contractors these can quickly get complicated in ways specific to the trade.

This book has a very specific target audience. If you are part of that specific target audience, its book report might be your most valued part of the class.


How to Read a Paper book cover How to Read a Paper: The Basics of Evidence-based Medicine and Healthcare by Trisha Greenhalgh is a specialized book useful for nursing students.

Sometimes using math to see the world more clearly involves many specialized issues. This book goes deeply into which issues apply to reading medical papers. It is the most advanced textbook in our classroom library. Yet it could be worth the more difficult read by helping jump-start a nursing career.

It is is another book with a very specific target audience, and if you are part of that specific target audience then its book report might be your most valued part of the class.


Moneyball book cover One of the most popular books about economics is Moneyball by Michael Lewis.

This book will be an obvious choice if you love sports. But it is not a book about playing a sport. It is about the business of owning and managing a sports team

With just the right amount of math it tells the story of when conventional wisdom was wrong, and using math to see the world more clearly not only turbocharged the Oakland A's but revolutionized that industry.


Naked Statistics book cover The best introduction to statistics that I know of is Naked Statistics by Charles Wheelan. This book calls itself a textbook but is easy to read.

Our class does a lot with the most foundational and basic statistics. The books above about behavioral economics do a little more with basic statistics.

But statistics can be interesting, helpful, and even awesome in its own right. It is not only a nice part of math because of our class topics and behavioral economics. This book shares how statistics can generally be useful and fun, and part of learning to use math to see the world more clearly.

Most statistics textbooks have a lot of math. There is a tradititonal set of stuff they teach, which involves many formulas, some of which are tricky. This is not that kind of book. The author purposefully avoids formulas to focus on the intuition that is developed by people who study statistics.


Feynman book cover "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman is a book about happiness through problem solving.

The books above it are all "business books" of one kind or another. This book is not. It is purely about using math to see the world more clearly.

Richard Feynman was not the smartest mathematician or physicist at Los Alamos. But he was the most fun. His stories share his approach to life. He balanced practical jokes with gentle kindness, faking it to get ahead with up-front honesty, and most importantly focusing on problems as something fun to analyze and scrutinize whether or not getting a final answer was important or even possible.

Feynman approached personal decisions with behavorial economics, and he did it decades before that topic had been formally invented. No other math book has such fun stories about moving ants, cracking top-secret safes, or picking up women at bars.


Feynman book cover Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths is a book about happiness through already solved problems.

The study of Computer Science has expanded far from its orginial scope of electronic calculations and simple computations. It now studies general issues about how to solve problems when you do not know all the information, when information is fuzzy, when there is random chance involved, or when new options appear as the problem develops.

Those are real-life issues too. In many fascinating ways computer scientists have mathematically solved all sorts of common problems. The answers they found can apply to the real-life issues everyone faces. The book shares these issues and answers in a very readable way, and might help you stress when you recognize already answered solutions to common everyday situations.


Billion Wicked Thoughts book cover A Billion Wicked Thoughts by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam is the world's most salacious book about data mining.

In 2010 two researchers decided that all academic research about human sexual behavior was stupid. It all depended upon surveys, and everyone knows that people lie like crazy on surveys, especially when talking about sex.

If someone wanted actual information about human sexual behavior they would need to look where people were honest. So Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam looked at anonymous data from internet searches (on search engines, dating websites, and porn websites). This vast amount of data is the "billion wicked thoughts". Then they did it again looking at sexy romance novels. What would their data analysis tools tell them about that type of titillation?

Unfortunately, in an effort to make their book as readable as possible, they spend very little time talking about the actual data mining. How did they dig through that immense amount of data to get their charts and rates? How did they deal with signal-to-noise? Which of the issues they discuss are most appropriate for data mined answers? Which questions have they answered definitively, and which are a stretch to try to answer using data mining?

So for this topic we need two books. Using data is an important topic. How to use data about sales can help a person run any small business.

Data Smart book cover The best companion book I know of is Data Smart by John W. Foreman. This book is a guidebook. Each chapter leads the reader step-by-step through a spreadsheet. It really demonstrates how small business data can be used to answer useful questions.

I hesitate to recommend this pair of books. I worry that A Billion Wicked Thoughts is long and full of numbers without enough actual math, and will waste time being entertaining and distracting. I worry that Data Smart will take many more hours to get through than a book you only have to read. However, a student who has a lot of time might have more fun, and learn more about how to run a business, from these books than any other book report option. But heed my warning that one of these books is barely a math book, and the other is actually a small math course.