Innumeracy (1988) by John Allen Paulos is a book that laments the lack of math general knowledge in society.

The book looks at how people lack general knowledge about the big numbers about populations and so on and that people do not have the math ability to reason about many probabilities and many numbers in general. Paulos spends quite a lot of time describing how people are not taught to think in terms of magnitudes.

Paulos points out that “I’m terrible at math and or not interested in it” is something that is almost fashionable to say and he compares this to how people would react if somebody said “I’m not great at English and think literature is boring”.

Innumeracy was written in 1988 and it would be interesting to see if the plethora of numbers that are now so easily available online has altered general knowledge of populations and figures for GDP and so on. It is unlikely that it has but at least for those interested it has made accessing the data easier.

It’s a good book and definitely worth reading for anyone pondering just how important math and numbers are to understanding society.


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