Rated Reads

Count Down: Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World’s Toughest Math Competition

by Steve Olson

Rated: Mild

During the summer of 2001, the 42nd International Mathematical Olympiad was held in the United States, the fourth time the U.S. had hosted the competition since first sending a team in 1974. (The event started in 1959 in Romania.) Every year, countries from around the world send teams of six teens to go for the gold. The competition lasts two days and involves a total of six math problems.

Steve Olson introduces the reader to each of the six U.S. team members and their coaches. We learn the background of each competitor in the context of one of the six questions posed during the 2001 contest, and we get a glimpse into the startling creativity and broad mathematical knowledge that each of these young people utilize to solve (or attempt to solve) the problems.

There are also well-rounded discussions on how these kids got to be so dang smart in the first place: Genetics? Environment? Culture? Political climate? Although that particular question is not (and, really, cannot be) answered, one common trait emerges in all the young people: they are desperately thirsty for mathematical knowledge. This thirst leads each of them, independently, to strive for the Mount Everest of high school mathematics.

Personally, I have always liked math, but nowhere near as much as these youngsters. I found this book about their dedication an absolutely riveting read, even though I did not understand more than perhaps 10 percent of the math presented. Luckily, a reader need not understand (or even like) math at all to enjoy this book. Just learning that these people even exist makes the time spent well worth it.

Rated: Mild. The only language is on page 165. It consists of 5 usages of a single fairly mild term, in an actually somewhat amusing context.

— Reviewed by Craig Smith

Craig Smith is chief medical officer of Tacoma Cat Hospital. In addition to providing book reviews on Rated Reads, he podcasts about feline health issues through iTunes and www.tacomacat.com.

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  • Count Down: Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World’s Toughest Math Competition
  • by Steve Olson
  • Rated: Mild
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: