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While George Szpiro does a wonderful job here of rendering mathematical complexities so that we can mostly understand them, the book proceeds from a dubious premise: "It may come as a surprise to many readers that our democratic institutions and the instruments to implement the will of the people are by no means foolproof." Really? The American Founding could hardly be more firmly placed upon the recognition that no system of government is foolp[roof generally and that we need to be guarded from the willy-nilly implementation of the "will of the people" specifically. So while there's much enjoyment to be had in seeing everyone from Pliny the Younger to Condorcet to Kenneth Arrow wrestle with the scientific impossibility of erecting a system that accurately renders results according to the notion of pure democracy, it can hardly be either a surprise or a disappointment to a people whose Constitution is intentionally set up to thwart the possibility of one man/one vote.

The reality is that our imperfect system serves us rather well and it may well be that the embrace of its imperfections is key to that fact. As Eric Hoffer said:
Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.
Considering the relative equanimity with which we accepted a minority presidential winner as recently as 2000, we appear to accept the imperfection of the system as a matter of course. What Mr. Spiro has done above all here is show that it is wise mathematically, not just politically, for us to do so.


Grade: (B)


See also:

George Szpiro Links:

    -GOOGLE BOOK: Numbers Rule
    -BOOK SITE: Numbers Rule: The Vexing Mathematics of Democracy, from Plato to the Present by George G. Szpiro
    -ESSAY: How to Solve Congress's Fraction Problem (George Szpiro, 7/19/10, History New Network)
    -ESSAY: Crusade against sloppy mathematics (George Szpiro, 14 October 2007 , NZZ am Sonntag )
    -ESSAY: Newton and the kissing problem (George Szpiro, Plus)
    -ESSAY: Mathematical mysteries: The gentlemen from Basle and the Petersburg Paradox (George Szpiro, Plus)
    -LECTURE: The Universal Language of Mathematics
    -REVIEW: of Perfect Rigor: A Genius and the Mathematical Breakthrough of the Century by Masha Gessen (George Szpiro, Nature)
    -ESSAY: Measuring Risk Aversion: An Alternative Approach (George G. Szpiro, Feb., 1986, The Review of Economics and Statistics)
-REVIEW: of Numbers Rule: The Vexing Mathematics of Democracy, from Plato to the Present by George Szpiro (Anthony Gottlieb, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Numbers Rule (Patrick Dunleavy, Open Democracy)
    -REVIEW: of Numbers Rule (Donald G. Saari, Times Higher Education)
    -REVIEW: of Numbers Rule (Cut the Knot)
    -REVIEW: of The Secret Life of Numbers: 50 Easy Pieces on How Mathematicians Work and Think by George G Szpiro (Julie Falkner, Science Shelf)
    -REVIEW: of Poincaré’s Prize, by George G. Szpiro (David Dillard-Wright, Philsophy Now)

Book-related and General Links: