Group Theory in the Bedroom, and Other Mathematical Diversions

Brian Hayes

Hill and Wang

An Award-Winning Essayist Plies His Craft
Brian Hayes is one of the most accomplished essayists active today--a claim supported not only by his prolific and continuing high-quality output but also by such honors as the National Magazine Award for his commemorative Y2K essay titled "Clock of Ages," published in the November/December 1999 issue of The Sciences magazine. (The also-rans that year included Tom Wolfe, Verlyn Klinkenborg, and Oliver Sacks.) Hayes's work in this genre has also appeared in such anthologies as The Best American Magazine Writing, The Best American Science and Nature Writing, and The Norton Reader. Here he offers us a selection of his most memorable and accessible pieces--including "Clock of Ages"--embellishing them with an overall, scene-setting preface, reconfigured illustrations, and a refreshingly self-critical "Afterthoughts" section appended to each essay.


Read an Excerpt


Clock of Ages

December 1999. As the world spirals on toward 01-01-00, survivalists are hoarding cash, canned goods, and shotgun shells. It’s not the Rapture or the Revolution they await, but a technological apocalypse. Y2K! The lights are going out, they warn. Banks will fail. Airplanes may crash. Your VCR will go on the blink. Who could have foreseen such turmoil? Decades back, one might have predicted anxiety and unrest at the end of the millennium, but no one could have guessed that the cause would be an obscure shortcut written into computer software by unknown



Praise for Group Theory in the Bedroom, and Other Mathematical Diversions

“As much as any book I can name, Group Theory in the Bedroom conveys to a general audience the playfulness involved in doing mathematics: how questions arise as a form of play, how our first attempts at answering questions usually seem naive in hindsight but are crucial for finding eventual solutions, and how a good solution just feels right.” —David Austin, Notices of the AMS
Group Theory in the Bedroom and Other Mathematical Diversions is a marvelous collection of thought-provoking essays that both inform and entertain. You’ll be amazed by the things you’ll discover in these stories.” —Ron Graham, professor of mathematics, computer science and engineering, University of California, San Diego, former chief scientist of AT&T, and past president of the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of America and the International Jugglers Association
“Brian Hayes’s book is a refreshing collection of superb mathematical essays. Ranging from choosing up sides to choosing names, the topics are intriguingly nonstandard. Moreover, the writing is clean, the explanations are pellucid, and the effect on the reader is exhilarating. First-rate all the way through.” —John Allen Paulos, author of Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences and the forthcoming Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up
"Every essay in this book is a gem of science writing on its highest level—accurate, up to date, brimming with surprising information, deep insights, and a profound love of mathematics. Its scope is awesome. Topics include a fantastic clock in Strasbourg, randomness, poverty, war, geology, genetics, gear ratios, partitions, nomenclature, group theory, and the ambiguity of the equals sign. There isn't a dull page in the book." —Martin Gardner, author of The Colossal Book of Short Puzzles and Problems and more than 60 other titles

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Brian Hayes

  • Brian Hayes writes the "Computing Science" column for American Scientist magazine, where he is a former editor in chief. His previous book, Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape, was published in 2005.


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Group Theory in the Bedroom, and Other Mathematical Diversions

Brian Hayes