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Problem-Solving through Problems by Loren C. Larson Review by: G. L. Alexanderson The College Mathematics Journal, Vol. 16, No.

5 (Nov., 1985), p. 432 Published by: Mathematical Association of America Stable URL: . Accessed: 21/11/2013 07:17
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1983. Problem-SolvingThrough Problems by Loren C. Larson. Springer-Verlag, Some books I enjoy reading.OthersI wish I had written. This book falls into both classes. Professor Larson has assembledherea beautiful collectionof problemsand has organizedthemin an instructive 251 are workedout in detail,and the othersare leftforthe readerwithout way. Of the 664 problems, The inclusion of manyproblems hints or solutions. without solutions makesthebook suitableas a textin a problems course. is organizedsomewhatdifferently The opening chapteron heuristics fromthe others.There is a both withand without sectionwithproblems, each of the author'sadmoni? solutions,to demonstrate tions: (1) search fora pattern;(2) draw a figure; an equivalentproblem;(4) modify the (3) formulate notation;(6) exploitsymmetry; (7) divide intocases; (8) workbackward; problem;(5) choose effective cases; and (12) generalize. (9) argue by contradiction; (10) pursueparity;(11) considerextreme are organizedabout setsof problemsfrom Otherchapters variousbranchesof mathematics: number These are, in turn, brokendown into algebra,real analysis,inequalities, amongothers. theory, geometry, sectionson specifictechniques?induction, theorem, telescopingsums, intermediate-value pigeonhole to give a small sample. The organizationis extraordinarily principle, complex numbersin geometry, in demonstrating effective and relationships betweenproblems thaton thesurfacemight patterns appear quitedifferent. forawhile.Many Some of theproblems to anyonewho has been lookingat problems are old friends otherswere certainly not familiar to me and would, I suspect,be new to many readers.An appendix identifies sources: variouscompetitions?thePutnam,Olympiads,and such, the Monthly, Mathematics I would guess and thisjournal, as well as otherjournals. Generally, Magazine,Crux Mathematicorum, thatin mostcases a veryrecent sourcehas been chosensince some of theproblems have a long history. For example,problem2.2.2 has listed as its source the 1978 Putnam Exam, but special cases of this and Matrices problem?and thespecial cases tellthewholestory?can be foundin Aitken'sDeterminants and in Thomas' Calculus.Of course,to trackdown thehistory of theseproblems would be a lengthy task and irrelevant to the purposesof thisbook. Knowledge of calculus is assumed and where more advanced ideas are required,the appropriate definitions and theorems accessible to are includedin the text.The level of the problemsis, therefore, most undergraduates, in problemswill find this rewarding and many high school studentsinterested for seminars readingas well. I suspectthatthisbook willbe used widelyby thosewho organizetraining of mathematics would also findit Olympiadsor PutnamCompetitions. highschool teachers Prospective worthwhile. ProfessorAlan Schoenfeldhas provided evidence in recentyears that it is possible to 87 (1980) 794-805) and this abilities Mathematical (American sharpenstudents' solving problem Monthly book should make thistaskeasier. The book is handsomely fewerrors. A fewinequalities designedand produced,withremarkably go thewrongdirection (p. 251) and a curiouspolicydictatesthatall figures go at the top or bottomof the to come upon a figure in themiddleof a but it is disconcerting effects, pages. This leads to nice aesthetic unrelated. problemto whichit is totally As withalmostany book,one can findomissions or statements thatcould mislead.On page 31, one is to Leibniz' Principle in the index) Reason and one could be introduced of Insufficient ("Nonsufficient" led to believefrom theorems. It should be noted thisdiscussionthatit is a reliableguide to conjecturing thatalthoughuseful, thisprinciple oftenfails?as, forexample,in the case of the isoperimetric problem forpolyhedra(M. Goldberg,TohokuMath. J. 40 (1935) 226-236) and the problemof maximizing the volume of a polyhedron witha fixednumberof verticeson the surfaceof a given sphere(G. Polya, to see Mathematical it is disappointing Combined Edition,Wiley, 1981, 162-163). Further, Discovery, workand lastinginfluence on any book on problemsolvingthat fails to acknowledgethe pioneering of George Polya. heuristics In spite of these shortcomings, this is a book that belongs on the shelfof anyone interested in It shouldbe instructive fortheinitiated. It may be thatnotall of forstudents and entertaining problems. thesolutionsincludedare "in the book," in the Erdos sense,but mostcome close. Altogether, thisbook is a greatartistic and problemsolving. success and a major additionto the body of workon heuristics G. L. Alexanderson of Santa Clara University


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