I discovered this book through the massive open online course (MOOC) Learning How To Learn on the Coursera website. A Mind for Numbers was the primary assigned reading and the author was also the instructor of the MOOC. As soon as my local library made this book available to me, I stopped taking the online course and dedicated my attention to this book since it pretty much covers all of the material.
WHAT I LIKED
A Mind for Numbers is an easy read full of invaluable tips for learning new subjects, particularly those in math and science. It uses insights from psychology to form great metaphors to help you understand how the brain processes and retains new information. The material is intuitive and left me super inspired to tackle a few of the new skills I’ve been meaning to take up.
As is evident from the associated MOOC, author/instructor Barbara Oakley has an accessible personality and way of teaching that makes learning how to learn a fun experience. I enjoyed the little anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book and I actually took part in the exercises at the end of each chapter. The fact that I was even willing to do these exercises shows how interactive and engaging I found the book to be and how much I trusted Oakley’s teachings.
WHAT I DISLIKED
The only problem that I had with this book was that it was a bit too focused on academia. I am not a student of a formal educational institute and was hoping that the book would contain more content for self-learners. One of the final chapters did touch on autodidactism a bit, but it wasn’t enough to make me feel like I fit the target audience of this book. In some chapters, A Mind for Numbers assumes that you’ll have access to instructors, classmates, and a structured school curriculum to help you in your learning journey. There is probably a more generalized psychology of learning book out there that caters to self-learners. If you’re reading this and have suggestions, please let me know.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who is thinking about picking up a new skill, or is specifically struggling in math or science, or thinks that they aren’t a math person in general. A Mind for Numbers reminded me that math isn’t some arcane art that only a handful of people will ever know, and is instead a skill that can be learned like any other.
I have yet to apply these techniques to some of the projects I want to start soon, but I’m super excited to see if they improve my ability to absorb new info. Now that I’ve finished the book I may actually revisit the online course in order to at least view the interviews and other supplementary readings available there.