How do you explain a topic as complicated and misunderstood as math to the general public?
Professor Eugenia Cheng’s answer was to write a book about math using baking as a means of explaining fairly complex mathematical concepts.
While baking is in its own sense a challenging skill, Cheng uses basic ideas about things like the methods of mixing certain ingredients to compare to methods of solving problems using math.
"How to Bake Pi" is divided into two parts, with the first part being about what math really is and general ideas about how researchers use math to solve problems (and even create problems for the purpose of solving them with math).
The second part of the book focuses more specifically on category theory, which, according to Cheng, is "the process of working out exactly which parts of math are easy, and the process of making as many parts of math as easy as possible."
In other words, it is a method of organizing the vast subject of mathematics into categories by how they can solve problems.
"How to Bake Pi" is not really a book meant for those who are hyper-interested in math or spend all their time reading math books, but rather a book written for those who can’t stand math to explain that math is more than what they were taught in high school algebra. It requires no prior knowledge of any of the topics at hand, and little more capability than a little bit of high school math.
Most of the book’s point in using the baking metaphors is to show how not only can math be used in real life, but how math is a part of real life. It is not a book about math as much as a book about what math is.
Cheng was able to take a subject as repulsive to many as mathematics and make it palatable for a general audience through her use of real life examples and parallels.
Upon reading the book, the reader might be surprised to find out that they were just able to fully grasp moderately complex math without having to stress about it like they remember math from school.
"How to Bake Pi" is an incredibly successful book in its ability to appeal to anybody, but also in its great ability to teach something very complicated in a way that is simple to understand.
For anyone who considers the word "math" with loathing, this is the book that will ease that pain and teach them to see math beyond what is taught in schools.
Jack Dudek is a junior at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute.