zombies-and-calculusZombies & Calculus
By Colin Adams
Princeton University Press
September 22, 2014
Reviewed by Marvin Vernon

Today I will review a book about calculus.

That’s right. Hell has officially frozen over.

Professor Craig Williams is just teaching his regular calculus class at a small college. He thinks one of his students is simply stumbling into class late. But when he starts to eat the professor’s star pupil, the professor realizes something is wrong. He and the other students run to an office to hide but quickly discovers that a homicidal coed is the least of their problem. A zombie plague has arrived. Someone must take the lead and who else is suited for that job if not the math professor.

Brad Pitt, eat your heart out.

Colin Adams’s sweet little novel/calculus primer manages to tell a clever zombie tale and teach a difficult subject at the same time. This is the kind of textbook that should be assigned to reluctant students. Thanks to Colin Adams and the publisher, Princeton University Press (yep, you heard that right), they can be entertained and befuddled at the same time. Professor Williams saves the day frequently by estimating zombie growth rates, determining the differential of zombie and human speed ratios and, my favorite, estimating the downward velocity needed to crush a zombie’s skull. Professor Williams may be a nerd but he is an awesome nerd. However, it does take a little time for him and his colleagues and students to get into the swing of thing…

“Supposedly some janitor tried to eat a freshman.”

“I’m surprised we heard about that,” said Gunderson. “I would have thought the Harvard administration would have tried to keep that hush-hush. A story like that can’t help the alumni fundraising campaign.”

…Which brings up the major strength of this zombie/math hybrid. It can be very funny. The author has an ear for the ludicrous and it adds a hint of satire to the story. Colin Adams is not above making fun of his own professorial idiosyncrasies…

I was counting the seconds for Dan to fall. It took 2.5 seconds, which means he fell 16(2.5) – 100 feet. It’s just a quick way to tell how far something falls.

“Did anyone tell you you’re weird?”

“Yup,” I replied, smiling. “Plenty of people.”

Frankly, if I was rating this on story alone, I wouldn’t rate it all that high. It’s a somewhat average plot with no real frills…except humor and math smarts. And that is what elevates the book to the recommended stage. It is simply a very clever read that teaches while entertaining. The author makes a really smart move by extending some of the conversations into the appendixes thereby streamlining the story while giving those who need more math the chance to learn and digest. If I had a book like this when I went to college…well…I still would have gotten a C but I may not have whined about it so much.

Overall, it is a lot of fun. It is a nice bit of treacle to make the learning fun. Colin Adams deserves a hand simply for attempting this. It’s icing on the cake that he succeeded so well.

But if I get one more calculus book in my review pile, I am going full zombie on the deliverer.

About Marvin P. Vernon

Marvin P. Vernon runs The Novel Pursuit, a review blog emphasizing horror, mystery and science fiction.

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