How to Solve It

how to solve it polya princeton science library 2004How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method by G. Polya, 3/5

This ambitious book tackles the fascinating topic of heuristics (practical problem-solving techniques) by focusing on a variety of naturally-occurring questions that can lead to solutions and discoveries in mathematics and other fields.  Using mathematical examples that I found challenging and somewhat inaccessible despite their stated simplicity, Polya demonstrates how questions like “What is the unknown?” “Do you know a related problem?” and “Did you use all the data?” can guide a potential problem-solver toward common-sense solutions even to problems that might seem dauntingly complicated at first.  Unfortunately, the book is both very dry and very confusingly organized–I never quite understood the layout and cross-references.  However, it is still a good resource on a surprisingly little-addressed topic.

Confession: I didn’t even attempt to complete the problems at the back of the book–even if I was smart enough to do them, I’ve forgotten most of the math I ever learned and my main reading time is right before falling asleep, which is not really conducive to mental acuity.

Why I read it: it was mentioned in The Organized Mind.

A picture quote I made:

A picture quote from How to Solve It by G. Polya. "No idea is really bad, unless we are uncritical. What is really bad is to have no idea at all." Background image is of the "MegaZapper" Tesla Coil at the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention (Bellingham, WA).

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