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: