Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Author: Marilyn vos Savant
Publisher: St Martin's Press/New York

IT can now be revealed that the smartest person on earth could very well be a woman, and her name is Marilyn vos Savant. It is with great humility that I accept this decision on behalf of my much-astonished gender when the Guinness Book of World Records listed in its 1986-89 editions that vos Savant has an IQ of 228, the highest in the world.
The Power of Logical Thinking, which is basically a book on challenging and puzzling mathematical questions, was published in 1996. Any reader would have thought that such a book must be one of the driest subjects to be digested.
But vos Savant is actually one of the most entertaining writers I have ever come across. Normal people would expect a genius like her to talk "above their heads".
Instead, they would, as I did, find out on reading her book that she makes the most difficult questions seem so simple.
This American magazine writer has a weekly column in Parade called "Ask Marilyn". It is the Sunday magazine for 341 newspapers in the United States, with a total circulation of 37 million and a combined readership that touches 81 million.
The "Ask Marilyn" column receives about 40,000 letters every year. Like many students from the arts stream, I found and still find mathematics to be a strange subject of unfathomable proportions, but vos Savant has made a believer out of me from a single reading of her book.
One of the issues brought up in her column that propelled her popularity to the stratosphere is the Monty Hall Dilemma. Vos Savant's analysis of this counter-intuitive problem is discussed at length in this book.
On September 9, 1990, Craig F. Whitaker of Columbia, Maryland posed this question to "Ask Marilyn": "Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors. Behind one door is a car, the others, goats. You pick a door, say No.1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He says to you, `Do you want to pick door No. 2?' Is it to your advantage to switch your choice of doors?"
Vos Savant's reply was startling because she advised Whitaker to switch because door No. 2 has a 2/3 chance of winning while door No. 1 has only 1/3 chance. When America woke up on Sunday morning to read her answer, it sparked a gathering storm of responses. Before long, members of the academia, including professional mathematicians and PhDs, begged to differ.
The outcome of the whole affair made the Parade columnist even more popular than the US president at that time, for a while.
This book delves into the pitfalls of misunderstanding mathematics and not being familiar with the intricacies of numbers and statistics. For those who have been groping in the dark, vos Savant is like the Goddess of Mathematics.
She has this uncanny ability to dissect and analyse any problem thrown at her and deliver a simple and irritatingly logical answer.
It is no wonder then that Marilyn vos Savant is America's most beloved mathematician.

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