A Surprising Excursion Through the Astonishing World of Math
by Alex Bellos
Free Press, New York, 2010. 319 pages.
I’ve already confessed to being a certified Math Nut. So no one will be surprised that I could not resist a book with this title and snapped it up and enjoyed it thoroughly.
This author takes the human approach. He does talk about some fascinating mathematical concepts, but mostly it’s through meeting and talking with people who are even bigger Math Nuts than me. (I say that with reverence, by the way.) I like his chapter descriptions in the Table of Contents, which give you an idea of where he’s going. For example, here’s the first chapter, Chapter Zero:
“In which the author tries to find out where numbers come from, since they haven’t been around that long. He meets a man who has lived in the jungle and a chimpanzee who has always lived in the city.”
Another chapter, “The Life of Pi,” is described:
“In which the author is in Germany to witness the world’s fastest mental multiplication. It is a roundabout way to begin telling the story of circles, a transcendental tale that leads him to a New York sofa.”
So this is one of those books that covers lots of fascinating mathematical ideas, but also about the people who deal with them. And that’s probably enough for my readers to know if they’re interested or not.
I’ll conclude with the end of the author’s Preface:
“When writing this book, my motivation was at all times to communicate the excitement and wonder of mathematical discovery. I also wanted to show that mathematicians can be funny. They are the kings of logic, which gives them an extremely discriminating sense of the illogical. Math suffers from a reputation that it is dry and difficult. Often it is. Yet math can also be inspiring, accessible and, above all, brilliantly creative. Abstract mathematical thought is one of the great achievements of the human race, and arguably the foundation of all human progress.
“The world of mathematics is a remarkable place. I would recommend a visit.”
Let me add that this author makes a wonderful tour guide for your visit.
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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.