The Simpsons and Their Mathematical SecretsThe Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets
Year: 2013
Author: Simon Singh
Length: 253 pages

My wife picked up this book for me from the library because she thought I might like to read it. To her credit, I am a huge fan of The Simpsons (and Futurama), and there are plenty of interesting mathematical concepts that I’ve loved reading about over the years. Clearly, I would be the target demographic for this book. Except, after reading through it, I’m clearly not. In fact, I’m not even sure who the target audience for this book is. Fans of Matt Groening’s work will already know the episodes and scenes that are re-described here. Fans of mathematics will already know about prime numbers, Fermat’s last theorem, and Klein bottles.

In short, this book felt like a mathematician trying to make math seem interesting by pointing at freeze-frame gags in a popular TV show and waggling his eyebrows as if to say, “See how smart the writers of this show are?” Unfortunately, focusing on these freeze-frame gags defeats the point of the joke by 1. Describing in detail why it’s funny and 2. By bringing attention to something that the writers themselves were conscious about not distracting from the plot of the episode. Plus, most of the explanations of the mathematical “jokes” had me thinking to myself, “So what?”

Either the math was so basic that anyone with a college education would already know the reference (hardly the titular “secrets”), or it was so obscure that I wondered why anyone would care at all. I found myself glazing over (a donut pun, get it?) when I was reading about all of this math, most of which was repetitive from previous already explained gags. Add to this the fact that there wasn’t even enough material for a full book based on The Simpsons, as the last portion of this book covers the much more obvious delivery service for math- and physics-based jokes, Futurama. This book should have been titled Matt Groening’s Mathematical Milieu.

A book neither for fans of mathematics or The Simpsons, I give The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets 2.0 stars out of 5.

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