Honest Regard for Mystery
Is Math Real? How Simple Questions Lead Us to Mathematics' Deepest Truths by Eugenia Cheng
Basic Books, August 15, 2023
Readers of Eugenia Cheng welcome her provocative, passionately held, and remarkably articulate arguments for seeing math differently. In her newest book, this globally recognized professor of math, and also scientist in residence at the Art Institute of Chicago, argues for the power of refocusing on mathematical questions rather than answers. This book is neither a new curriculum nor a suggestion of another swing through the math wars. It is a simple treatise on human curiosity and the value of taking an inquiry approach to reduce math phobia and introduce delight in seeing in math a way that is open to any question, that is variable and fluid, and that asks no one to hold back a query because it might be wrong. Each chapter begins with a question that any one of our students, at any stage, might ask. Why isn’t 1 a prime number? Or why does 1+1=2? Cheng reminds us that, as a core strength of our brains, math jumps the margins of a single subject and enters a space where many kinds of thinkers, indeed almost every student, can feel at home. She includes personal stories, optimism, and words of encouragement that speak directly to educators in schools where teachers have enough autonomy to try something tested, robust, and also new. As helpful as this book will be to creative teachers, it could also speak directly to students and parents. It steers a course forward, removing obstacles, augmenting understanding, and building the joy of mastery while maintaining an honest regard for mystery, struggle, and the courage to wonder.