THE NUMBERS BEHIND NUMB3RS: Solving Crime with Mathematics by Keith Devlin and Gary Lorden

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Stars: ****
This book was read for the Science Book Challenge.

Ever seen the TV show NUMB3RS? It’s on CBS. Well it’s a crime solving show where a mathematician uses mathematics to help solve the crimes. Dr. Keith Devlin is the “Math Guy” on National Public Radio’s popular program Weekend Edition. He is also an author of 25 books and has a monthly column, “Devlin’s Angle” which appears in MAA Online. Dr. Gary Lorden is a mathematics professor at Caltech and is the chief mathematics consultant for NUMB3RS.

The book talks about how crime can be solved with mathematics and if an episode of NUMB3RS was on that type of math, then the episode is briefly described. You don’t need to have seen the show to read the book though as you aren’t expected to know what happened in the episodes. On the other hand, knowing at least the basics of probabilities, percentages and algebra will make understanding the book much easier.

NOTE: Although I found quite a few of the mathematical explanations beyond my understanding, I still enjoyed the book because I learned the basics of the math system. Even if I don’t understand how to figure out a large algebraic equation, I can still understand how the answer is helpful. So if you find yourself lost in calculations, just pass that part by, you’ll still get something out of the book.

The topics discussed are Criminal Geographic Profiling (figuring out where a criminal lives based on where his crimes were committed,) fighting crime with statistics, data mining (finding meaningful patterns in masses of information,) Changepoint Detection (determining when a change in a pattern is significant), Image Enhancement and Reconstruction, Bayesian Inference (predicting what might happen in the future based on current events), DNA Profiling, Making and Breaking Codes, Doubts about Fingerprints, the Math of Networks (analyzing how different people or events are all connected and perhaps figuring out the leader or headquarters,) The Prisoner’s Dilemma (Is it possible to ensure you get the lowest possible sentence?), Risk Analysis and Counterterrorism (determining if a certain terrorist attack is likely to happen and what prevention would be mathematically advisable,) Mathematics in the Courtroom and Crime in the Casino (card counting and the like.) Finally there is an appendix that would be of interest to those who watch the show. It is a Mathematical Synopsis of the Episodes in the first three seasons of NUMB3RS.

I found this book very interesting although I had to have absolute silence to follow along and read it. I don’t normally need that much concentration for a book.

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About Kathleen

I've been a nonfiction lover for as long as I can remember. I love children's nonfiction as well and love to share my knowledge and the books I gained them from, with the world. I wish more people would give nonfiction a chance.