• Shape

  • The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else
  • By: Jordan Ellenberg
  • Narrated by: Jordan Ellenberg
  • Length: 14 hrs and 23 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (102 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author of How Not to Be Wrong - himself a world-class geometer - a far-ranging exploration of the power of geometry, which turns out to help us think better about practically everything

How should a democracy choose its representatives? How can you stop a pandemic from sweeping the world? How do computers learn to play Go, and why is learning Go so much easier for them than learning to read a sentence? Can ancient Greek proportions predict the stock market? (Sorry, no.) What should your kids learn in school if they really want to learn to think? All these are questions about geometry. For real.

If you're like most people, geometry is a sterile and dimly remembered exercise you gladly left behind in the dust of ninth grade, along with your braces and active romantic interest in pop singers. If you recall any of it, it's plodding through a series of miniscule steps only to prove some fact about triangles that was obvious to you in the first place. That's not geometry. Okay, it is geometry, but only a tiny part, which has as much to do with geometry in all its flush modern richness as conjugating a verb has to do with a great novel.

Shape reveals the geometry underneath some of the most important scientific, political, and philosophical problems we face. Geometry asks: Where are things? Which things are near each other? How can you get from one thing to another thing? Those are important questions. The word "geometry", from the Greek for "measuring the world". If anything, that's an undersell. Geometry doesn't just measure the world - it explains it. Shape shows us how.

* This audiobook includes a downloadable PDF of images and shapes.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2021 Jordan Ellenberg (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"Unreasonably entertaining new book.... Shape makes geometry entertaining. Really, it does.... For all Ellenberg’s wit and play (and his rightful admiration of some excellent 19th-century beards), the real work of Shape is in codifying that geometry on the page.... To Ellenberg, geometry is not a reprieve from life but a force in it - and one that can be used for good, ill and for pleasures of its own. It binds and expands our notions of the world, the web of the real and the abstract. ‘I prove a theorem,’ the poet Rita Dove wrote, ‘and the house expands.’” (Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

“Ellenberg’s commitment to explanation, his exploration of the humanity of mathematics, and the tour de force of the final chapter in defense of a democracy girded by fairness and science are enough to remind you why he is America’s favorite math professor.” (Daily Beast)   

"Containing multitudes as he must, Ellenberg's eyes grow wider and wider, his prose more and more energetic, as he moves from what geometry means to what geometry does in the modern world.” (The Telegraph

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What listeners say about Shape

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    4 out of 5 stars

Excellent, but not suited for an audiobook

Jordan Ellenberg is an excellent mathematician, and very open and enthusiastic. If he writes a popular book you should read it.

In this case, the operative word is "read." You don't have to use lab equipment or go out into the field to do mathematics, and to get any feeling at all for it, the reader is going to have to work through some concrete examples. That's natural enough in a printed book, where you can embed figures in the text, but what's the point of an audiobook version if you're going to end up walking through PDF diagrams anyway?

I've given this a low rating, but what that's meant to convey is only that I don't think it works as an audiobook, simply by the nature of the material. It's not a criticism of the book itself, and I do think the audio version of it was about as well done as it might have been.

5 people found this helpful

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waste of money

author has nothing new to say except for a hash of history of some major math players
content has nothing to do with shape, the title of the book

2 people found this helpful

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Shape's about reason, logic, mathematics & more...

I love the scope of this book; from explaining the rigor of Abraham Lincoln immersing himself "till I could give any propositions in the six books of Euclid at sight" to applying the inherent reasoning and logic of demonstrating proof to far-flung human undertakings.

Ellenberg is a math professor who can write. His speaking style, while forthright, cannot fully contain his enthusiasm for his subject matter. His narration is conversational and reminds me of the best of the Great Lectures books I've enjoyed.

Rational thought and reasoning can be applied to everything from geometry to maps to politics, artificial intelligence to genealogy and biology. The best arguments are "self-evident," and Ellenberg weaves mathematical, cultural and political history into Shape, elucidating great advances in math and other endeavors, from Ancient Greece to the American Revolution; from the thinking of Abraham Lincoln, to gerrymandering today.

Shape will make you think...without making your head hurt too much in the process. What a treat! I'll be up for a second, and perhaps a third listen. And based on Shape, I'm up for trying Ellenberg's other work as well.

2 people found this helpful

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Wonder and laughter

Shape is absolutely hilarious and breathtakingly impressive. And it makes a great audiobook too. I never got out pencil and paper, and had a great time listening to it. (I might have learned more if I had, but I don’t have free hands while I listen.)

1 person found this helpful

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What is it all about?

Read the intro and the first chapter but couldn’t get what it is all about. This usually portents a bad book, especially if it is supposed to be a science book. And the narration is awful.

1 person found this helpful

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Dry as a textbook

Thought this was about interesting "hidden geometries" of the real world. Instead, it was an unending string of proofs "this proves line xy is congruent to line xa because angle abc and xyz are..." blah blah

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Skip to chapter 14

I strongly dislike the structure of this book. The author considers himself a "fun professor" and meanders from topic to topic. This panders to those with short attention spans. And bothers me.

A meaningful potential thesis of the book is the mathematics of gerrymandering. It seems to me the author was afraid this is too boring a topic. Which it's not. There are onion layers to the problem of determining if a district map has been gerrymandered. It's really interesting!

I recommend you skip to chapter 14 titled "How Math Broke Democracy (and Might Still Save It)".

It's the only chapter worth reading.

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Plodding

As an example, he talks about Nim, a mathematics game that's easily understood, but he takes seemingly forever to discuss every nuance of it. Several of those experiences in a row is a set of hurdles you are required to clear. By that time you could have played enough games of Nim to understand it experiencially.

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math is as fun as this book

top favorite for 2021, clever, up to date and funny.
Jordan is well versed with both words and numbers!

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Not Appropriate for audio format

The book appeared to be interesting for the first half hour or so, but then the author started to read mathematical proofs. I'm a mathematician and still could not follow. There is a supporting pdf but then you need to read that along with the book, which defeats the purpose of the audio book.

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