X and the City


X and the City, Modeling Aspects of Urban Life

John A. Adam

Princeton University Press, 2012

 This book is all about math; not just any math, but algebra, calculus and trigonometry with a touch of physics thrown in for good measure. With that in mind and before I proceed, a caveat: I am not a math-cat. Never have been , never will be, it ‘passeth beyond my understanding’. So why did I read such a book like this? Well, my Auntie Sabina is participating in the blogging A to Z challenge in April and for that she is having the Board read 26 books whose titles match the alphabet. There are all sorts of decisions that went into making the book choices, but she will write about that on March 21 for the Blog Topic Reveal over at OrangeMarmeladePress. Anyway, I got stuck reading the book about math.

 So at first I thought I would do my usual breakdown of nonfiction reviews, where I talk about each chapter. But this book has 25 chapters, each more complicated than the next. Unfortunately, this is one of those books I’m just not going to finish. I got to Chapter 15, Sex and the City (which is not as lurid as it sounds) and I am calling it quits. Not because the book is bad; on the contrary, were I a mathcat, I am quite sure I would find the book easy and fun to read. I am ending it because the book is half equations and half words. No problem with the words – easy reading, complicated principles made simple and some great trivia (more about that later). For my readers to understand, here are 3 samples of equations in the book:


 Now, I don’t even know what any of that means or even how to read it, so I just skip over it; which means I am skipping over half the book! So you see, I’m not really reading the whole thing anyway. But for those mathletes who can understand the book, the author uses calculus to explain why cities grow as they do, why traffic flows (or not) as it does, and estimating weather patterns in the city. And, according to the author, those same mathletes can take the equations he offers and apply them to their own cities to discover answers to burning questions.

 The author is very knowledgeable (according to my limited understanding) and is probably a very excellent teacher. He writes in conversational style which I find appealing, especially when reading difficult subjects. So on the one hand, I like the book; but on the other hand, I am lost and a bit bored. So, finito.

 Rating: How does one rate a book that is so easy and enjoyable to read yet so far beyond my limited math skills that its information is wasted on me? Well, for the parts of the book I do understand, it would be a 4 out of 5 paw rating. For the parts that are totally off the chain for me, it would be a 2 out of 5 paw rating. So in the interest of fairness and middle-of-the-roadness, I will rate it 3 out of 5 paws.

jack Reviewer: Jack

  Interesting Trivia you can wow your friends with at parties:

*“How many taxi rides would it take to circle the Earth?” Several equations later, “At three miles per ride, you will need about 8,000 taxi rides to circumnavigate the globe.”(Pg 11)

*“How much of that fruit is fruit?” When you peel a banana, you lose 19% of the original volume; with an orange, the loss is 27%! (pg 36)

*“How fast does bamboo grow?” – after a really long equation – about 3 kilometers a decade, or, 3 feet a day. Hmm, that’s pretty fast. (pg 42)

*“One very interesting feature common to both natural and man-made phenomena is the topic of stability vs instability. … Will that traffic bottleneck disappear by the time I get there or will it get worse? A typical traffic “instability” arises from time lags in the response of a driver to the accelerations and decelerations of the vehicle in front. A small lag can grow as it passes, in a wavelike manner from car to car.” (pg 90) And mom always wonders why traffic slows on the interstate for no apparent reason. Now we know why!

And some fun quotes about cities:

*“To look at the cross-section of any plan of a big city is to look at something like the section of a fibrous tumor.” Frank Lloyd Wright (pg 1)

*“If all the cars in the United States were placed end to end, it would probably be Labor Day Weekend.” – Doug Larson (pg 121)

*“The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.” – Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) (pg 137)

*”Being a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” Princess Diana (pg 261)

John A. Adam – He actually lives in our area! He teaches at a local university – 

We love that the mascot is a lion!!!

Books by John A. Adam


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