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A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper

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A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper

Basic Books,

15 min read
8 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

This engaging, accessible book will change and improve the way you think when you read the news.

Editorial Rating



  • Applicable
  • Concrete Examples
  • For Beginners


In a world in which disinformation abounds and politicians vest in blanket denials and flat-out lies, math professor John Allen Paulos offers clarity. This and other books in his series of accessible works about everyday math have become unlikely bestsellers. Paulos provides a short, entertaining manual to interpreting the news. He guides readers in spotting and navigating biases, twisted statistics and alarming headlines that offer no context. Though he first shared it in the mid-1990s, Paulos’s advice remains relevant and welcome.


Newspapers matter. The world’s best independent papers provide in-depth coverage of current issues you won’t find elsewhere.

Newspaper circulation has declined in the face of other information channels, but newspapers remain relevant, especially for reliable, in-depth news. The quality of the news derives more from the number of independent news sources than the total number of newspapers.

Where possible and practical, read The New York Times and The Washington Post (US), The Globe and Mail (Canada), The Times or The Guardian (UK), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Le Monde (EU), among others. 

Adopt a thoughtful and skeptical approach to reading the news. While mathematicians may fail to see the forest for the trees, journalists often exaggerate or leave out important details through misunderstanding math, statistics or science or in attempting to make a story compelling.

When you read the news, think critically and stay alert for biases.

Common traps include “availability error,” the “halo effect” and “anchoring...

About the Author

John Allen Paulos helps people appreciate math and improve their numeracy. He also wrote A Numerate Life, Beyond Numeracy and A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market.

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