Maths book pre-empt adds up to six figures for Quercus

Maths book pre-empt adds up to six figures for Quercus

Quercus has pre-empted a debut book about maths for a six-figure sum, which tells "true stories of life-changing events where mathematics has played a critical role".

World rights in The Maths of Life and Death: Seven Mathematical Secrets You Cannot Live Without by British mathematical biologist Kit Yates were pre-empted by Katy Follain from Chris Wellbelove at Aitken Alexander Associates to publish in October 2019. 

According to Yates, understanding how prevalent mathematics is in everyday life can help us to recognise some of the rules that govern our lives. It can also guide us towards making better decisions in "real world" situations - "from the mundane to the terrifying". Examples range from helping us gauge which seat on the train is the one to aim for to when to stop our search for a life partner and how best to react in the face of worrying medical test results.

In the book, Yates seeks to demonstrate how we often perform complex mathematics unconsciously, whether tapping our foot to music, singing in the shower or admiring snowflakes. He will do this by telling the stories of ordinary people; those featured include athletes banned by faulty tests, patients crippled by faulty genes and innocent victims of miscarriages of justice. Yates also tells stories of investors who have lost everything and parents who have lost children "all because of mathematical misunderstandings" proving maths really is a matter of life and death.

Follain, non-fiction publisher, said the relateable read grapples with "huge ethical issues" along the way. 

"I love the accessibility and depth of this book, and how the narrative of each chapter carefully teases out the interwoven mathematical threads of these stories," she said. "Yates wrestles with huge ethical issues from abortion to anti-vaccination, as well as pertinent societal issues like climate change and globalisation. But there is also something very human and relatable about it all. The result is a fascinating, entertaining and surprising read."

Yates, who is also one of the problem setters on Dara O’Briain’s "School of Hard Sums" and a regular contributor of the "Puzzle for Today" on the Today Programme, has written topical mathematical pieces for The Conversation that have attracted over 1 million views, making him one of the most read writers on mathematics. 

Commenting on the deal, he said the public deserved to know the role of mathematics in "the complicated phenomena we experience every day". 

"Many mathematicians revel in the obscurity of their work, in the pursuit of 'knowledge for knowledge's sake', but the people who pay for the majority of mathematical research, the general public, deserve better," said Yates. "They deserve to know that mathematics is fundamental for grasping the complicated phenomena we experience every day. That mathematics is the flow of water though our taps and the electricity that keeps the lights on. It is the explosive growth of an embryo and the genesis of an atomic bomb. These are the stories that I’m going to tell in this book."

He added: "I’m delighted to be working with Quercus and with Katy in particular on my first book. Together we will tease out the mathematical secrets that everyone needs to know.’