Thinking Better: The Art of the Shortcut

Thinking Better: The Art of the Shortcut
Genre : Popular Science
Published : 19 Aug 2021 - Fourth Estate
How do you remember more and forget less? How can you earn more and become more creative just by moving house?

And how do you pack a car boot most efficiently?

This is your shortcut to the art of the shortcut. Mathematics is full of better ways of thinking, and with over 2,000 years of knowledge to draw on, Oxford mathematician Marcus du Sautoy interrogates his passion for shortcuts in this fresh and fascinating guide. After all, shortcuts have enabled so much of human progress, whether in constructing the first cities around the Euphrates 5,000 years ago, using calculus to determine the scale of the universe or in writing today’s algorithms that help us find a new life partner. As well as looking at the most useful shortcuts in history – such as measuring the circumference of the earth in 240 BC to diagrams that illustrate how modern GPS works – Marcus also looks at how you can use shortcuts in investing or how to learn a musical instrument to memory techniques. He talks to, among many, the writer Robert MacFarlane, cellist Natalie Clein and the psychologist Suzie Orbach, asking whether shortcuts are always the best idea and, if so, when they use them. With engaging puzzles and conundrums throughout to illustrate the shortcut’s ability to find solutions with speed, THINKING BETTER offers many clever strategies for daily complex problems.


If you thought Maths was all about long stuff, like long division and long multiplication and taking a long, long time to figure things out, Marcus du Sautoy shows that it's just the opposite. Full of humour, stories and the lightest of touches, this is a sight-seeing tour of some of the world's greatest neat dodges, unexpected turns and useful cut-throughs. Prepare to be caught short.

Michael Rosen

This book will change the way you look at the world. It's chock full of stories, ideas and clever tricks – I loved it. Marcus is a maestro at making big ideas come alive – he deserves his place alongside Richard Dawkins, E. O. Wilson and Carlo Rovelli in the pantheon of great modern science writers.

Rohan Silva, CEO and founder of Second Home

Du Sautoy is a gifted and tireless mathematical communicator with considerable range…the joy of du Sautoy’s book[…]is the romp through mathematical ideas, from place value to non-Euclidean geometry to probability theory.

Financial Times

…enjoyably clever…

The Guardian

If mathematics has proved anything, it is that shortcuts can change the world. Marcus du Sautoy has come up with a smart, well written and entertaining guide to the connecting tunnels, underpasses and other tricks to traverse the trials of everyday life.

Roger Highfield, author, broadcaster and Science Director at the Science Museum

In Thinking Better, Oxford mathematician Marcus Du Sautoy pulls back the curtain to show how mathematicians think. The result is an engaging, delightful adventure through a variety of situations where mathematical thinking – in particular, the search for clever shortcuts – illuminates deeper mathematical truths. And it turns out these short cuts are incredibly useful for the rest of us too! <br />

David Schwartz, author of The Last Man Who Knew Everything

[E]njoyably clever …with vividly illustrated chapters about the real-world applications of algebra, geometry, probability theory…It’s Du Sautoy, in the end, who provides the wisest commentary.

Steven Poole, Guardian

Du Sautoy masterfully guides readers through complex math… All the while, he’s encouraging about the importance of problem-solving: ‘Mathematics is a mindset for navigating a complex world and finding the pathway to the other side.’ Math-minded readers will find much to consider.

Publishers Weekly

This is a book about shortcuts that takes no shortcut. It is chock-full of thought-provoking examples, ranging from the mathematical to the sociological.

Melissa Franklin, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics, Harvard University

Marcus du Sautoy compellingly answers the age-old plaint 'When am I going to use this?' with a wide-ranging tour of the real uses of mathematically-flavored thinking, in domains from the stock market to psychotherapy to modern sculpture.

Jordan Ellenberg, New York Times-bestselling author of Shape

Every chapter of Thinking Better begins with a specific problem that the shortcut can solve and ends with a pitstop to take us away from the mathematics for a little while to explore how the shortcut that was just introduced can be applied to the real world. These deviations from mathematics recount du Sautoy’s conversations with exports in various fields, often prompted by a particular idea for a connection… Du Sautoy expertly weaves mathematical strategies, historical background and accessible examples into an engaging narrative that a seasoned scientist can enjoy as much as someone with less maths in their background who is looking for information.

Nina Meinzer, Nature

One of Bloomberg's "49 Most Fascinating, MindBlowing, Challenging, Hilarious, and Urgent Titles of the Year" for 2021 .

Bloomberg, Matteo del Fante

Du Sautoy is a gifted and tireless mathematical communicator with considerable range… This is a ‘greatest hits’ of mathematical ideas presented with trademark clarity and energy. <br /> <br />

The Financial Times, Tim Harford

The joy of this book is not in the facts but in the journey. Du Sautoy expertly weaves mathematical strategies, historical background and accessible examples into an engaging narrative that a seasoned scientist can enjoy as much as someone with less maths in their background.

Nature Physics, Nina Meinzer

[Marcus du Sautoy is] one of the great contemporary popularizers of mathematics. In print, radio, and television, he is known for spreading the gospel that mathematics is endlessly interesting and a great deal of fun. His latest book, Thinking Better, is a prime example of his ability to communicate with a broad audience… As always, Du Sautoy opens the world of mathematics for those who are at least a little curious about what it offers.  

MAA Focus

I can warmly recommend mathematicians and nonmathematicians alike to read this very entertaining reflection on many different disguises of the shortcut.

MAA Reviews, Adhemar Bultheel

Showing 5 of 16 reviews