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Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Numbers Behind Numb3rs

Solving Crime With Mathematics

by Kevin Devlin and Gary Lorden


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The Numbers Behind Numb3rs

Solving Crime with Mathematics

by Kevin Devlin and Gary Lorden

Reviewed November 13, 2010.
Plume (Penguin), 2007. 243 pages.
Starred Review

Okay, I admit that I'm a math geek. All I have to do to prove it is tell you about my prime factorization sweater.

So, it's a no-brainer that I love the TV show Numb3rs. This book is written by Keith Devlin, "NPR's 'Math Guy,'" a consulting professor at Stanford, and Gary Lorden, "the Math Consultant on Numb3rs," a math professor at Caltech (the school after which the fictional Calsci is modelled). They take the episodes of the first season of Numb3rs, explain the math concepts behind them, and talk about actual criminal cases where these concepts were used.

I think they do a great job of making the concepts understandable without getting bogged down with equations. I shouldn't be surprised, since on the show Charlie always uses metaphors to explain what they can do with numbers.

A few of the things they talk about -- with examples from actual cases -- are DNA profiling, finding meaningful patterns in masses of information, using Bayesian Inference to detect the future, and making and breaking codes.

I don't think I need to say much more about it. If you find this stuff fascinating, you know who you are! All I have to do is tell you this cool book exists.

If, on the other hand, this sounds mind-numbing and not the least bit cool to you, then no amount of my talking is likely to convince you, and I admit that you probably will not like the book.

But if you want to be dazzled by the power of numbers and get a handle on some of the powerful concepts that can be used to fight crime, you will thoroughly enjoy this book, as I did.