Debut Author Ben Orlin talks about publishing his first book:
Math with Bad Drawings
Q: Hey Ben, do you have any surreal and exhilarating news?
Yes! I’ve written a book! Even more surreal, I’ve written and illustrated a book!
Q: What’s it about?
Q: That’s… kind of a big topic?
Yeah, that’s what I thought at first. A book about “math in general” felt as impossible as one about “history in general” or “ideas in general.” Too big, too broad. I ain’t got the whole world in my hands.
But when I started writing, it began to click.
The opening section, “How to Think Like a Mathematician,” tackles the big questions in the discipline—how notation works, the relationship between “pure” and “applied,” the aims of mathematical inquiry. If you read this blog, you’ll recognize the themes (though the writing, I assure you, is all new!).
Then it fans out. And it becomes a book about… well, everything.
As a math person, I’m always boasting that math underlies every aspect of life. I figured it was time to walk the walk.
So every chapter tackles a new topic. Why architects use triangles. Why people buy lottery tickets. How to evaluate schools statistically. Why the economy collapsed in 2008. Why there aren’t giants. The benefits and costs of building a spherical Death Star.
Q: Wow, that’s a lo—
Income taxes. The genetics of sibling resemblance. Batting average. Non-cubical dice. Why I first hated and then came to love the paper in the UK.
Q: Okay, I get the—
The dawn of modern economics. The statistical analysis of literature. Weird insurance programs. The replication crisis in science. The chaos theory of history.
Q: Are you finished?
Yeah, I think that’s it.
Q: Finally! So how did—
Oh, and the Electoral College!
Q: Is the book funny?
Among its 400+ color illustrations, you’ll find a camel, a series of Mario tubes, and Dwayne Johnson. I believe that answers your question.
Q: Not really, no.
Then yes, it’s hilarious.