Mathletics by John Barrow

Last Updated on January 3, 2023 by Andrew Pirie


By John Barrow

How can sprinter Usain Bolt break his world record without expending any additional effort?

What dates of birth give rise to the best professional athletes? Is it better to have the inside or outside lane during a race?

Drawing on vivid, real-life examples, mathematician John D. Barrow entertainingly explores the eye-opening, often counter-intuitive, insights into the world of sports that math and physics can give us. Hence, for example, we learn that left-handed boxers have a statistical advantage over their right-handed opponents.

Consequently, through exciting, comprehensive, and straightforward mathematical explanations. For a staggering variety of sports, including soccer and jogging as well as cycling, archery, gymnastics, and rowing, Barrow exposes the most effective methods and tactics.

The author of this book Mathletics describes a variety of sports, including numerous Olympic sports. then continues by applying mathematical and physical ideas to analyze them. In addition, a lot of these studies concentrate on the physical prowess of the particular sport. Moreover, there are several more on the scoring system and a few more on winning tactics.

In Mathletics, a few chapters address less sports-like events such as coin flipping, probability, psychology, etc. And having read the author’s excellent “100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know“, I was eagerly expecting more of the same in this book but with a sports-related twist. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed.

On the positive side, there are many interesting sports details discussed in Mathletics – especially about Olympic events. Consequently, I learned much about the various Olympic sports and a bit about their history. Many of the physical/mathematical analyses are as interesting as I had hoped and were a great pleasure to read. Finally, the author’s writing style is amicable, chatty, lively, and generally accessible.

Mathletics John Barrow While on the negative side

  1. The book contains too many errors
  2. omissions
  3. erroneous labeling of diagrams
  4. incomplete/misleading diagrams
  5. and some rather unclear descriptions.

I found all of these to be very annoying when combined. I must also concur with a previous reviewer who noted that some rather British sports—most notably rugby and cricket—are addressed with the presumption that the reader is familiar with all of their jargon, regulations, and other details. This may not always be the case for readers in North America like myself.

In hindsight, it nearly seems as though Mathletics was hastily published without adequate editing. The “future” London 2012 Olympics are frequently brought up by the author. It’s possible that there was pressure to get the book published in 2012 before the Olympics in order to increase sales at the expense of a thorough editorial assessment.

For math nerds like me who enjoy seeing simple math used in context, in this example sports, a book like this is typical of utmost interest. The reader is aware of potential difficulties caused by the errors stated above, but can still enjoy the book (at least excellent sections of it) despite the aforementioned flaws. By emphasizing the book’s positive qualities and showing my enthusiasm for this kind of literature, I awarded it the aforementioned (perhaps excessively generous) rating.




By Andrew Pirie

Andrew was elected Vice President of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians in 2020 after being a member for 7 years. He has worked as a PSC Consultant and Research Assistant from 2013-2015, Consultant, and Sprint Coach at Zamboanga Sports Academy from 2015-2017. And Currently is Consultant Coach with VMUF 2021- Current editor and chief of, and has recently done consultancy work for Ayala Corp evaluating the Track and Field Program. Coaches Sprints, Middle and Jump events he is  Level 3 Athletics Australia Coaching Certification in Sprints and Hurdles. Currently working towards a Masters Degree in Education. He can be contacted on [email protected] You can find more information on Coaching here

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