Happy Pi Day

Celebrating the unlikely intersection of food and mathematics

A day of festivity shared by mathematicians and foodies alike, Pi Day began at the San Francisco Exploratorium as a way to celebrate fun and science, and has since grown into a national holiday meant for both pie-eating and math-loving. (It also happens to be Einstein’s birthday.) This Pi Day, we’ve cooked up a list of books that invite you to discover ingeniously designed mathematical riddles, the relationship between art and geometry, the age-old craft of dessert-making, and more.

The MIT Press also launched a new Public Understanding of Science initiative, which will support our efforts to mobilize cutting edge science and research for greater social impact through writing excellence. By providing academic scientists and first-time book authors with the support needed to make their ideas optimally impactful and accessible to general readers, policy makers, and the media, we create a platform to build a public understanding of science. Learn more about the initiative here.


The Polyhedrists: Art and Geometry in the Long Sixteenth Century by Noam Andrews

In The Polyhedrists, Noam Andrews unfolds a history of the relationship between art and geometry in early modern Europe, told largely through a collective of ground-breaking artisan-artists (among them, Luca Pacioli, Albrecht Dürer, Wenzel Jamnitzer, and Lorentz Stöer) and by detailed analysis of a rich visual panoply of their work, featuring paintings, prints, decorative arts, cabinetry, and lavishly illustrated treatises. But this is also an art history of the polyhedra themselves, emblems of an evolving artistic intelligence, which include a varied set of geometrical figures—both Platonic, or regular, like the simple tetrahedron, and Archimedean, or irregular, like the complex yet beguiling rhombicosidodecahedron.

The Price of Cake: And 99 Other Classic Mathematical Riddles by Clément Deslandes and Guillaume Deslandes

In The Price of Cake, brothers Clément and Guillaume Deslandes have assembled a uniquely rich and accessible collection of mathematical riddles, organized by difficulty and accompanied by unique hand-drawn illustrations. The challenges are exceptional in both their range and their precision. There are no “tricks” here—just good math to test your skills.

“Looking for delight, intrigue, wonder, and awe in mathematics? Look no further. These 100 gems bring it all!” —James Tanton, Mathematician-at-Large, Mathematical Association of America

Mage Merlin’s Unsolved Mathematical Mysteries by Satyan Linus Devadoss and Matthew Harvey

Most people think of mathematics as a set of useful tools designed to answer analytical questions, beginning with simple arithmetic and ending with advanced calculus. But, as Mage Merlin’s Unsolved Mathematical Mysteries shows, mathematics is filled with intriguing mysteries that take us to the edge of the unknown. This richly illustrated, story-driven volume presents sixteen of today’s greatest unsolved mathematical puzzles, all understandable by anyone with elementary math skills. These intriguing mysteries are presented to readers as puzzles that have time-traveled from Camelot, preserved in the notebook of Merlin, the wise magician in King Arthur’s court.

“This book is wonderfully unique—an irresistible call to join the quest for the treasures of mathematics.” —Tai-Danae Bradley, coauthor of Topology: A Categorical Approach and creator of the math blog Math3ma

The Meaning of Proofs: Mathematics as Storytelling by Gabriele Lolli

In The Meaning of Proofs, mathematician Gabriele Lolli argues that to write a mathematical proof is tantamount to inventing a story. Lolli offers not instructions for how to write mathematical proofs, but a philosophical and poetic reflection on mathematical proofs as narrative. Mathematics, imprisoned within its symbols and images, Lolli writes, says nothing if its meaning is not narrated in a story. The minute mathematicians open their mouths to explain something—the meaning of x, how to find y—they are framing a narrative.

“Mathematical proofs are much more like stories or poems than you may realize. Here Lolli explains how, with a fascinating wealth of detail.” —John Baez, Professor, Department of Mathematics, U. C. Riverside


Pies, Pâtés, and Pastries: Secrets Old and New of the Art of Cooking by Charlotte Birnbaum

Distributed for Sternberg Press

Pies, pâtés, and pastries are the noblest of foods. Their inner life is always a secret; their outer form, a sculpture. No other dishes are so well suited to surprises and culinary amusements. In her enchanting and historically enlightening little book, Charlotte Birnbaum traces the life of such delicacies through diverse cultures and traditions. Here, wondrous anecdotes of noblemen and farmers alike are woven together, each accompanied by toothsome recipes.

Food by Fabio Parasecoli

Everybody eats. We may even consider ourselves experts on the topic, or at least Instagram experts. But are we aware that the shrimp in our freezer may be farmed and frozen in Vietnam, the grapes in our fruit bowl shipped from Chile, and the coffee in our coffee maker grown in Nicaragua, roasted in Germany, and distributed in Canada? Whether we know it or not, every time we shop for food, cook, and eat, we connect ourselves to complex supply networks, institutions, and organizations that enable our food choices. Even locavores may not know the whole story of the produce they buy at the farmers market. In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, food writer and scholar Fabio Parasecoli offers a consumer’s guide to the food system, from local to global.

“The book provides a refreshingly clear and compact overview of the complex supply networks and interconnected environmental issues engaged by every consumer trip to the supermarket—the unseen interactions embedded within our food system.”Choice

Acquired Tastes: Stories about the Origins of Modern Food edited by Benjamin R. Cohen, Michael S. Kideckel and Anna Zeide

The modern way of eating—our taste for food that is processed, packaged, and advertised—has its roots as far back as the 1870s. Many food writers trace our eating habits to World War II, but this book shows that our current food system began to coalesce much earlier. Modern food came from and helped to create a society based on racial hierarchies, colonization, and global integration. Acquired Tastes explores these themes through a series of moments in food history—stories of bread, beer, sugar, canned food, cereal, bananas, and more—that shaped how we think about food today.

“Food culture is too often limited by an obsessive focus on the new and now. The essays in this excellent, rigorous collection are a pointed reminder that the past is very much the present, and the future, too.” —Helen Rosner, The New Yorker

Food Routes: Growing Bananas in Iceland and Other Tales from the Logistics of Eating by Robyn Metcalfe

Even if we think we know a lot about good and healthy food—even if we buy organic, believe in slow food, and read Eater—we probably don’t know much about how food gets to the table. What happens between the farm and the kitchen? Why are all avocados from Mexico? Why does a restaurant in Maine order lamb from New Zealand? In Food Routes, Robyn Metcalfe explores an often-overlooked aspect of the global food system: how food moves from producer to consumer. She finds that the food supply chain is adapting to our increasingly complex demands for both personalization and convenience—but, she says, it won’t be an easy ride.

Food Routes is an intriguing look at where our food does (and doesn’t) come from, where it will and should, and why tech is not a panacea.” —Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything

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