How Not To Be Wrong, first draft

This week I turned in the first draft of How Not To Be Wrong to my editor at the Penguin Press, so we remain on schedule for publication in May 2014.  It’s a book about math for a general audience, which aims to make the case that it’s useful and interesting to enrich your intuition and common sense through formal or quantitative means.  Characters include Francis Galton, David Hilbert, Abraham Wald, Blaise Pascal, Daniel Ellsberg, Voltaire, Antonin Scalia, Augustin-Louis Cauchy, the Marquis de Condorcet, G. H. Hardy, Derek Jeter, Edmond Halley, B.F. Skinner, Bertrand Russell, William Shakespeare, the Comte de Buffon, Theodore Roosevelt, David Foster Wallace, etc.

Writing a long book — the draft is 130,000 words — turns out to be something like writing a substantial math paper.  You have some idea in advance of what the thing is going to look like, but you discover as you go that things you thought you could accomplish in a small amount of space are actually major projects.  And then there are other things you think are going to be included which you decide you don’t really need (or calve off into separate future projects.)

In the end, the book I turned in is, I think, the same book I promised to write.  The same but different.

7 thoughts on “How Not To Be Wrong, first draft

  1. byesac says:

    That is some heady company Derek Jeter!

  2. Joseph Nebus says:

    Congratulations, and good luck with the next steps.

  3. gowers says:

    I know very well the feeling you are talking about. You start with a book that’s perfect in every respect but one: it doesn’t exist yet. Then you try to turn this fantasy book into something real, but at least to start with that is quite a depressing process, since actual words somehow can’t live up to the standard set by the vague picture you had in your mind. But then, after hard work (which in my case also resulted in ditching entire chapters), something reasonably satisfactory emerges. And I think the best moment comes when you have a look at the book some time after finishing it, so that you can read it almost as though it were written by someone else, and find that you quite like it.

    I’m very much looking forward to reading “How not to be wrong”: you have a guaranteed sale of one, and a probable sale of more than that when I decide it would make a good present for various other people.

  4. Congratulations! I am also looking forward to reading it…

  5. Mark Meckes says:

    I mentioned your title to my wife, and we realized there is a (deliberate?) ambiguity. I originally parsed it as meaning “how to avoid being wrong”, but her initial interpretation was something like “the wrong way to be wrong”, as in “an especially bad way to be wrong”. After discussing it we realized you might well have intended both possible readings in reference to different things in the book.

  6. […] Jordan Ellenberg, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin. Jordan’s book, How Not To Be Wrong, comes out in May 2014. He blogs at Quomodocumque and tweets at […]

  7. […] to broadcast on as many channels as we can get access to.  And each channel has its own rules.  My book is going to look really different from McKellar’s books, which in turn look really different […]

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