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Mike Riley

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Mathematica Cookbook Review

June 07, 2010

Those familiar with my review of Mathematica 7 know how much respect I have for this extremely powerful application. However, harnessing all that Mathematica has to offer can be a time consuming investment given its elite status among its brilliant user community. Fortunately, O'Reilly has recently published a book of hints, tips and best practices that aspires to put the rest of us in the camp of enlightenment. Does it achieve this lofty goal? Read on to find out.Unlike other, more recent O'Reilly Cookbooks, Mathematica Cookbook was penned by a single author. Even though such approaches require more time investment on the part of the author and editor, I always prefer a book written by one author versus a mishmash of contributors. The single voice confines the knowledge transfer to consistent instruction devoid of unnecessary duplication or discordant passages. It also represents real dedication by the author toward the subject matter at hand, since they often need to possess deep knowledge and a passion for the subject matter to spend so many words on the topic at hand. Author Sal Mangano, whose previous O'Reilly book was the XSLT Cookbook, embodies these positive attributes in his latest work.

The 19 chapter volume touches on the most prevalent aspects of Mathematica, ranging from numerics, functional programming, data structures, string and test processing, two and three-dimensional graphics, image and audio processing to the obvious mathematics of algebra, calculus and statistics. Useful science, engineering and financial recipes are covered along with expanding Mathematica's interactivity (some really sweet examples showcase Mathematica's powerful Mainpulate function), parallel capabilities and interfaces to other languages and frameworks (including Java, .NET and C++). The concluding chapters feature a collection of tips and tricks, and debugging and testing, especially with the assistance of Wolfram's Eclipse-based Workbench IDE. 'Animal track' tips and 'bear trap' warnings are a welcome sight on a number of the pages. The Recipes are presented in the same format as is found in other O'Reilly Cookbooks: Problem, Solution and Discussion. A See Also section accompanies recipes, often pointing readers to short bit.ly links to the deeper theory behind the solution discussed. An occasional essay, such as Sal's excellent "What Is a Functional Programming Language and How Functional Is Mathematica?" and "A Brief Introduction to Computational Finance for the Nonquant" prove to be notably worthy and well written pieces.

The author assumes a working knowledge and access to a legitimately licensed copy of Mathematica 7. Fortunately, readers can download a 30-day trial of the software using a license code provided in the book. In addition, readers should also be familiar with Mathematica's programming capabilities and touched on the program's broad range of calculation capacity across the professional domains it serves.

The price for this presentation of over 200 recipes isn't cheap. Indeed, Mathematica Cookbook is one of the most expensive Cookbooks in the O'Reilly stable. It would have also been a nice bonus to provide those who purchased the electronic edition the ability to download the book in Matehmatica's notebook file format or, at the very least, supply a notebook file containing some of the book's more verbose Mathematica code listings (the snowman example in Chapter 6 and the Eigenvectors image recognition solution in Chapter 8 come to mind). Nevertheless, the quality of education delivered to help master such a sophisticated engineering, mathematics and scientific analysis tool is worth the cost. For those willing to spend the time, effort and money, Mathematica Cookbook is a worthy purchase for the discerning Mathematica user.

Title: Mathematica Cookbook Author: Sal Mangano Publisher: O'Reilly Media ISBN: 978-0-596-52099-1 Pages: 832 Price: $64.99 US

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