Havil, Julian 1952-

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Havil, Julian 1952-


Born September 11, 1952. Education: Oxford University, Ph.D.


Office—Winchester College, College St., Winchester SO23 9NA, England. E-mail—[email protected].


Educator and author. Winchester College, Winchester, England, master of mathematics.


Gamma: Exploring Euler's Constant, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2003.

Nonplussed! Mathematical Proof of Implausible Ideas, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2007.

Impossible? Surprising Solutions to Counterintuitive Conundrums, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2008.


Julian Havil has written several mathematics books geared toward an educated popular audience, including Gamma: Exploring Euler's Constant, Nonplussed! Mathematical Proof of Implausible Ideas, and Impossible? Surprising Solutions to Counterintuitive Conundrums. In Gamma, Havil describes eighteenth-century Swiss mathematician Leonhard Paul Euler's many groundbreaking contributions to mathematics, mechanics, and logic. These contributions included new forms of notation that are still used today. Putting Euler's work in historical context, Havil uses many equations, tables, and graphs; yet, according to Dan Segal, writing in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, "it is genuinely a ‘popular’ book nonetheless, written in an engagingly enthusiastic style and aimed at a specific class of reader." Other reviewers also praised the work. In the online magazine Plus, Mohammad Akbar commented that the "book is accessible to a wide range of readers, and should particularly appeal to those who feel a love for mathematics and are dissuaded by the dryness and formality of textbooks, but are also not satisfied by the less rigorous approach of most popular books."

Havil continued in a similar vein with Nonplussed! and Impossible? Both titles are about mathematical paradoxes, that is, facts than can be proven logically but seem to be unreasonable on the surface. Many of Havil's examples deal with probability and statistics, though he gathered puzzles from other mathematical areas as well. For example, why is the thirteenth day of the month most likely to be a Friday? How can a sports team become a winning team by adding worse players than the other team? The paradoxes vary in difficulty, and the most challenging require some knowledge of calculus to solve. Writing about Nonplussed! for the Web site ForteanTimes was Rosemary Chapman. While praising the "fine anecdotes" and "intriguingly evolving pictogram" that introduce each of the fourteen chapters, she pointed out the author's "inconsistent" use of variables and oddly placed figures that created "confusion." On the other hand, in a review appearing in the Web site Plus, Phil Wilson praised the work highly for its "great variety and depth of mathematical problems, colourful historical anecdotes, … difficult but well-explained proofs, clear and engaging prose and beautiful diagrams. He added that Havil's "elegantly simple prose is skillfully clipped to ensure the smooth and speedy flow of the narrative." Wilson predicted, "The brilliant writing, the wonderful problems, the weaving together of past and future, games and discovery, and world number cultures will have you returning to this ageless book time and again."



Choice, October, 2003, review of Gamma: Exploring Euler's Constant, p. 376.

Mathematical Intelligencer, winter, 2005, Gerald L. Alexanderson, review of Gamma, pp. 86-88.

Mathematics Magazine, June, 2003, Paul J. Campbell, review of Gamma, p. 241.

Mathematics Teacher, March, 2004, Ward R. Stewart, review of Gamma, p. 221.

New Scientist, July 19, 2003, Ben Longstaff, review of Gamma, p. 51.

Notices of the American Mathematical Society, August, 2004, Dan Segal, review of Gamma, pp. 768-770.

Times Higher Education Supplement, June 22, 2007, Peter M. Neumann, "The Certainty Principle," review of Nonplussed!, p. 21.


ForteanTimes,http://forteantimes.com/ (March 4, 2008), Rosemary Chapman, review of Nonplussed!

Plus,http://plus.maths.org/ (March 4, 2008), Mohammad Akbar, review of Gamma; Phil Wilson, review of Nonplussed!

Winchester College Web Site,http://www.winchestercollege.org/ (February 14, 2008), brief biography of author.