Street-Fighting Mathematics: The art of educated guessing and opportunistic problem solving by Sanjoy Mahajan grew out of the author’s course at MIT. Mahajan encourages a hands-on, messy, creative approach to using mathematics to address real world situations. The book focuses less on complex problems with neat solutions and more on developing the right tools to make educated guesses and assessments. The full text is available to the public here.
In problem solving, as in street fighting, rules are for fools: do whatever works—don’t just stand there! Yet we often fear an unjustified leap even though it may land us on a correct result. Traditional mathematics teaching is largely about solving exactly stated problems exactly, yet life often hands us partly defined problems needing only moderately accurate solutions. This engaging book is an antidote to the rigor mortis brought on by too much mathematical rigor, teaching us how to guess answers without needing a proof or an exact calculation.
In Street-Fighting Mathematics, Sanjoy Mahajan builds, sharpens, and demonstrates tools for educated guessing and down-and-dirty, opportunistic problem solving across diverse fields of knowledge—from mathematics to management. Mahajan describes six tools: dimensional analysis, easy cases, lumping, picture proofs, successive approximation, and reasoning by analogy. Illustrating each tool with numerous examples, he carefully separates the tool—the general principle—from the particular application so that the reader can most easily grasp the tool itself to use on problems of particular interest.
Street-Fighting Mathematics is available in print and online under a Creative Commons Noncommercial Share Alike license.
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