This is a short rant.
I started off liking David Berlinski’s A Tour of the Calculus. Then, his syrupy, metaphor-ridden, simile-mangled, history-bending style of describing math began to slowly grate on my nerves. If you want to make math accessible, by all means, cut through the jargon. Elucidate, present the concept in easier language, or in terms of easier concepts that we understand. But, don’t obfuscate math by comparing it with the human condition. As much as you like to appeal to the poets within us, a mathematical limit is not like romantic love – and describing it as such leaves the concept just as blithely amorphous as before. At best, such strategies can (temporarily) engage the attention of the non-mathematical within us; they will not teach us any math at all.
Needless to say, I hated the book and hated myself for being impressionable enough to read all but the last three chapters. From the encomiums on the jacket, you find that The New York Times called it “Playful, witty, highly literate”. It is all of those. It is also a lot of bullshit.
There. I have exhausted my vitriol. Now I need some fresh air.