Cover of Numbers Rule: The Vexing Mathematics of Democracy, from Plato to the Present.

Numbers Rule: The Vexing Mathematics of Democracy, from Plato to the Present

author: George G. Szpiro (2010)
date read: 14 August 2017
rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Voting is a hard problem: how do you come to a group consensus between multiple options? And how do you divide representation between constituencies?

Lots of people have tried to answer these questions, and this book has an enjoyable and detailed account of their work and lives. Each chapter covers a key figure in the history of voting theory – such as Plato, Borda and Condorcet – and it does a good job of balancing the mathematics and the biography. I came away with a good sense of the underlying ideas and the context in which they were drawn up. That’s tricky, but the book is well-written and engaging.

One thing that helps is that each chapter has an “additional information” section at the end. Each one contains extra detail (for example, mathematical proofs or biographies of side characters) that are interesting, but it allows the narrative of the main chapter to stay focused. I found this a very useful.

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