Do the Math! On Growth, Greed, and Strategic Thinking (Sage, 2013)

John K. White
Softcover, 350 pages

Do the Math! is a refreshing look at mathematical concepts and moral dilemmas in the increasingly more numerate world of everyday living. Aiming to popularize and inform, Do the Math does for numbers what Eats, Shoots, and Leaves does for words.

Check out what readers have said in the reviews below.

Do the Math cover

Reviewer Comments

At a time when the government is concerned at the standard of mathematics among students, perhaps this book should be distributed throughout the education system. The author is now based at UCD after a twenty-five year career as a physicist, lecturer, project manager and computational analyst around the world. His argument is a simple one. If we all grasped the basics of how things work, from pyramid scams to government bail-outs, we would understand the world better. Most people should be able to follow him as he explains such things as television game shows, calculating crime statistics, stock markets and so on. There are plenty of diagrams and tables to help explain White's points and help break up the text.

Books Ireland

DO THE MATH! is both entertaining and relevant with tons of easy to relate to examples that will make you smarter and make your kids - assuming they read it - more likely to look to the future on more than a prayer that they make it as an actor, a rapper or a pro-athlete. Math is sexier than you realize! And more useful, too. Numbers are super important and this book provides a sound and contextual backdrop that will show you how understanding maths can help you change your understanding of the world. Not just help you count your change.

Mark Singer, Los Angeles, California

Coming from a non-mathematical background I still found the book easy to follow, while very rich in content. I really enjoyed the application of mathematical laws and theories to everyday occurrences in politics, business, trade and my personal favourite.....sports. The book is anchored in the modern post-Lehman Brothers, post-subprime crash geopolitical arena. For this reason White's book is modern and highly relevant.

If you want to know how pyramid schemes are created and inevitably fail? If you want to know how numbers can be manipulated to tell a different story? If you want a mathematical eye cast on the world of competitive sports? This book will be enjoyable for you.

Not dissimilar to books like Freakonomics or Outliers that I have read, but the whole time you just know it's grounded more by facts and figures.

Mark O'F, Dublin, Ireland

I've read a few pop-maths books and frequently thought they had little substance and often made sweeping statements that weren't backed up with any hard evidence. This book strikes a much nicer balance, not inflammatory but rather very matter of fact, in parts actually pointing to some of the other books I've read and uncovers some of the stuff they've failed to explain correctly. It's refreshing to read something that doesn't claim to be seeing patterns where none exist, instead pointing out what can be measured within our daily lives. As a non-mathematical person I found it very accessible and pleasant to read, would recommend it.

Maurice, Dublin, Ireland

Whatever your suspicions on issues of public concern, John White's Do the Math clarifies in a wonderfully objective way, the true nature and costs of chain letters, of credit cards, of lotteries and casinos, of TV advertising, of mortgages, of government subsidies, of taxes and the measurement of progress, of tar sands and gas prices, of the arms race and modern warfare, of risk analysis and nuclear proliferation. I have tried to think of a personal concern not addressed in this extraordinary book. It's a gold mine of thought provoking insights. The icing on the cake is that, from start to finish, it is fun to read.

The style is VERY easy to read and unusually entertaining. One can pop it open anywhere with equal reward. At a time when our human incapacity to think beyond immediate gain or loss is becoming suicidal, it's great to encounter positive, far sighted ideas. I am no mathematician, but this book made me feel like one.

Thomas Lawson, Port Hope, Ontario

This book could be recommended to school teachers struggling to maintain interest in Maths among their pupils. It was certainly more enjoyable on statistics then the dire lectures I endured in college. Good use of graphs and tables to illustrate points.

In addition to the enjoyable maths aspect, it gives me great joy to see another right thinking person who isn't afraid to state that the unsustainability of the present economic model is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact.

Colm O'Leary, Dublin, Ireland

Great Book. An informative read yet highly accessible this pertinent piece is equally educational as it is entertaining. It touches base on many interesting topics and as such I feel well versed and more equipped to partake in relevant discussions of the day. Definitely provides some good talking points for the dinner table! Highly recommended.

Miranda Whist, Toronto, Ontario

As a non mathematician I was fascinated by Do the Math. The author uses the logic of mathematics to explain clearly many of the economic problems of the 21st century. These problems are usually inadequately explained, or indeed confused, perhaps deliberately, by economic commentators and opinion makers. He dispels this confusion with clear examples. I liked his explanation of how the ordinary consumer is fleeced for interest, and accepts it like a sheep. I was surprised (and impressed) by his analysis of how excessive wealth is counterproductive to a prosperous society. It is worrying to note that inequality is increasing, rather than the reverse.

He is scathing in his analysis of how advertising peddles lifestyles instead of products, and wants instead of needs. It becomes clear that cooperation is far better than competition, on the altar of which we are sacrificed each day. I was particularly impressed by the chapter on The Roots of Economic Disaster. Apart from the mathematical analysis, he also offers us many entertaining situations, which leave one wondering what planet do some economists live on. This is a book everyone should read, in preference to the daily repetition of so called analysis by self styled economic experts.

Brian Gallagher, Dublin, Ireland

This book offers a cohesive and informative summary of a lot of math, and does so in a way that's easy to understand. I am not a math whiz by any means, but reading Do The Math helped me deepen my knowledge as well as reinforcing some core concepts that I think I last looked at in high school, but which are useful (and which I'm glad to be re-reminded of). Financial literacy is so key these days, and this book does a great job at explaining a lot of basics. Highly recommended.

Anders, Toronto, Ontario

I am no specialist by any means and this is the first book on Economics and Maths which I fully understand. Moreover, I really enjoyed it! It contains so many examples and practical cases that even the most complicated abstract concepts are easily grabbed. The notes at the end of every chapter are of incredible added value, since they simplify technical definitions for the reader who is not familiar with general economic terms, such as GDP, derivatives, recession shapes, etc.

Most parts are certainly interesting and keep you absorbed, as the book is very well written, but my favourite chapters are those which give solutions to our current economic problems in a cooperative way, using common sense and respectful behaviour toward others. The famous sentence "Be nice, clear your ice", for example, summarizes a whole philosophy of social collaboration which has lately been replaced by greed and selfishness, bringing developed countries to the current deep recession.

I give the book five stars and I think it should be a compulsory reading for undergraduates starting economic and social studies. It is also very enlightening for those involved in researching methods and statistics, and I highly recommend it to any person who would like to be better informed about the wiser economic choices we can make in our daily life.

BelÚn Roza, Dublin, Ireland

They say a small bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. If you ever doubted it read this book. The author shows how all too often people use numbers to peddle their spurious claims. Whether its advertising agencies, politicians or social commentators who should know better, the author shows how they have either wilfully or accidentally mis-represented the situation using numbers. There are lots of amusing anecdotes (I particularly like the one about the coded message from Arnold Schwarzenegger) and plenty of interesting little stories along the way - did you know how the days of the week got their name for example? It is well written and easy to read.

There is something here for everyone. It should be of interest to those who know nothing about maths but are interested in how the world works. The mathematically minded will enjoy the plentiful examples of things they might have suspected but didn't know for sure. The broad range of topics (maths, physics, politics, economics, society) keeps it varied and interesting from the readers perspective. There is a sense of compassion about the book without it being rammed down ones throat. I guess we are all interested in a fairer society and this book addresses those issues from a different perspective and highlights the many instances of how it is not fair. Overall a very interesting and recommended read.

Tom McCormack, Dublin, Ireland

At first I felt angry because the book exposes the social injustice and lack of social consciousness that has become a part of everyday life. Without money life can be a daily grid without time to think, read, or ponder the ill in our society. Even in Balm Beach the rich have moved in and claim they own the beach and the water. It is insane. I learned a lot about economics and the world of finance. The book was informative and insightful.

Deirdre White, Toronto, Ontario

Recommended to me by a friend who knew I liked popular statistics books like Freakonomics, Outliers etc. I'm very glad I read it as it makes references to some of these books and easily puts doubt to some of their more spurious sensational claims. This author lets the facts speak for themselves, which are more than interesting enough.

The book introduces various maths/statistics ideas and then shows real world examples on the topics of science, sport, gambling and finance. For people who have read similar books before, some of the ideas maybe familiar but the examples worked out by the author are original and engaging. The book taught me a huge amount about the mathematical world(s) we live in and the catastrophic consequences of not doing the math correctly.

C. Harte, Dublin, Ireland

Many Canadian friends have told us that they have read John K. White's recently published "Do The Math!" and have agreed that it is a "must read" for every Finance Minister on the American Continent, the U.K., Ireland and Europe for a start. High school and university students would benefit especially by owning copies.

It is surprisingly easy to read, even for those whose best subjects are not Maths or Physics, because he uses amusing, innovative comparisons to well-known legends for clarity, better comprehension and advice. The example of the tortoise and the hare for instance applies appropriately to Canada's careful handling of their financial situation during the ongoing downturn. Slow and steady certainly seems to win the race here because those responsible for our fiscal affairs learned from the tortoise and Did The Math!

Ms. D. Grant, Toronto, Ontario

This book has no easy short cuts but a careful reading brings ample rewards. Filled with fascinating anecdotes and historical references a thoroughly researched argument is presented with a very evident passion to communicate at its core. One gets the feeling that John White has left no stone unturned in his quest to help make sense of the mathematics underpinning our lives and unraveling the mystery as to why and how we arrived at the current impasse for capitalism. With concepts such as an imagined game of Monopoly between Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Adam Smith and William Shatner to whet your appetite this is like gourmet food - to be enjoyed slowly, savouring each intellectual argument as it is served. The last three chapters are particularly gripping as the case is argued for a world in which we re-learn to share resources and treat each other as we would wish to be treated. This is an author with much to say - highly recommended.

Alison Hackett, Dublin, Ireland


About the author

John K. White received a B.Sc. in Applied Physics from the University of Waterloo, Canada, and a Ph.D. from University College Dublin, Ireland.

He has worked around the world as a physicist, lecturer, project manager, and computational analyst over a 25-year career. He has worked as a project manager and technical writer for Sun Microsystems, The Netherlands Organization, and Berminghammer Foundation Equipment, consultant for Interactive Image Technologies, ScotiaBank, and the Ontario Government, and as a lecturer and research fellow at University College Dublin, and has analyzed game playing strategies, from professional sports teams to the stock market as well as many other thought provoking systems.

He is also active in promoting physics and numeracy in schools, and has published widely in academic journals, contributed chapters to edited volumes, and authored numerous technical publications. Born in Dublin, Ireland, he grew up in Toronto, Canada, and now lives and works in Dublin.

Do the Math! On Growth, Greed, and Strategic Thinking

John K. White
Softcover, 350 pages, Sage Publications (2013)

Better numeracy, Do-it-yourself analysis, Social inclusiveness, Foster critical and strategic thinking, Uncomplicated mathematical discussion

Our world has become more complicated, and the notion of growth at any cost has led to constant economic uncertainty, a permanently stressed-out workforce, and everyday stories of government and corporate abuse. John K. White argues that a better knowledge of basic systems is needed to understand the world we live in, from pyramid scams to government bailouts, from sports leagues to stock markets, from the everyday to the seemingly complex.

   John K White