Based on this purchase…

You order something online, and the seller then suggests other things you might want to buy. Amazon has a “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” feature, and Alibris is even more enthusiastic:

Based on this purchase, we’ve hand picked some titles you just may find impossible to resist.
Can we tempt you with some custom picks?

So: I order Richard Evan Schwartz’s You Can Count on Monsters: The First 100 Numbers and Their Characters (2010) — a children’s book I’ll talk about in a moment — from Alibris, as a 7th birthday present for my grand-daughter Opal. What do you suppose Alibris suggested as items I might find irresistible?

There are four:

Functional Analysis by Walter Rudin

The theory of functions by E. C. Titchmarsh

Elements of the theory of functions and functional analysis by A. N. Kolmogorov, S. V. Fomin [that’s the Kolmogorov of Kolmogorov complexity]

An Introduction to the Approximation of Functions by Theodore J Rivlin

I’ve been taken into the Serious Mathematics department of the store.

Amazon’s scheme for generating recommendations based on this specific purchase helpfully nets other children’s books, including two by Schwartz (one of which, Man Versus Dog, I have now bought for Opal) and two about math — though its general recommendations for me, which are based on all my recent purchases, are entertainingly all over the map.

Back to Monsters. I heard about the book on NPR, where Keith Devlin, their math guy (and my Stanford colleague), raved about it on January 22:

“This is one of the most amazing math books for kids I have ever seen…,” Devlin says. “Great colors, it’s wonderful, and yet because [Schwartz] knows the mathematics, he very skillfully and subtly embeds mathematical ideas into the drawings.”

What Schwartz does is draw monsters to represent different prime and composite numbers.

(Illustrations on the NPR site.)


7 Responses to “Based on this purchase…”

  1. Chris Ambidge Says:

    I’m reminded of the (probably apocryphal, but it shows the correlations were being made even then) story of Queen Victoria being so pleased with *Alice in Wonderland* that she asked for Lewis Carroll’s next book — and in due course got some fairly esoteric mathematical tome.

  2. maxvasilatos Says:

    Remy Charlip.

  3. Erik Zyman Carrasco Says:

    Hand-picked indeed…

    Also, I wonder if the name Alibris has ever driven anyone ā librīs.

  4. The Ridger Says:

    Amazon once offered me – because I’d bought some Anthony Trollope – a book on Oil Tankers and Cargo Ships.

    I’m still baffled.

  5. H. R. Freckenhorst Says:

    And, to circle around to your G&S posts: Amazon recently offered a remastered DVD of Mike Leigh’s Topsy Turvy, and revealed that people who bought it also ordered the 1939 Mikado film, and The Life and Times of Harvey Milk.

    Oh, they’ve got some of us profiled!

  6. ShadowFox Says:

    Well, I’m embarrassed–I actually own the first three of the four recommended books… And I never ordered the Monsters!

  7. Rich Schwartz Says:

    I usually don’t leave comments on any blogs about my book, though I often read them with interest. For this one, I just can’t resist: It’s hilarious. I can’t figure out why my book is linked to functional analysis as opposed to, say, Galois theory or manifolds — topics that are equally unrelated to it. Incidentally, Man Versus Dog is not really a children’s book, but rather a childish book written for adults.

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