Number Freak: A Mathematical Compendium from 1 to 200 by Derrick Niederman

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Number Freak: A Mathematical Compendium from 1 to 200 by Derrick Niederman

Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Possibly not one for everybody, but this is a very enlightening look at numbers. Gives a new meaning to the term 'digital age'.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: February 2010
Publisher: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd
ISBN: 978-0715637104

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This is a book that definitely does what it says on the tin. Our author has the capacity to grab each number between one and two hundred, and wring it for all its worth - all the special status it might have in our culture (more easy with seven than, say, 187), all the special properties it might possess (perfect, triangular, prime), and as many other things mathematicians and so on would find of interest. Luckily there is enough here to make the book well worth a browse for us who would not deem themselves number buffs.

So we get again the process, as seen in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon, whereby we can prevent ourselves from winning a goat. We learn how we might be better at faking our tax returns (the digit 1 would appear a lot more than we'd think, and instead we tend to leave it out of things), and more.

With the numerical order intact a lot of other things are a melange. There is Euclid on this page, someone much more recent on the next, and then it's back to Pythagoras and his friends. You might find yourself in a muddle as to who was responsible for what - until some flashes of welcome trivia appear. We get a mathematical theorem published by James Garfield, five years before he was President of the USA, and the obvious truth that no-one so publicly mathematically-minded would ever be popular at the polls today.

Everything you might remember from school texts (how many bridges and how many islands allow for a continuous, non-repetitive walk for a travelling salesman, how many colours do we need to colour a map so no matching countries abut) is present and correct. There is also a lot more that we may well never have met before. But this is by no means one of those nostalgic tomes, redressing our memory loss since school. This is full of maths as science, and as a result all the high production values come to the fore, with copious uses of symbols, formulae, and so on.

This does mean I have to admit to slipping my eyes past some things (yes, even as early as number two, on page six), but I will happily admit Theaetetus bested me, way back in Greece, 2,400 years ago. My own GCSE results aside, where I fluked an A, I was never one to be particularly mathematically minded.

Which brings us to the merits of this author, where he keeps us turning the pages, learning things left, right and centre. We might be covering old ground on doing sums in longhand, (and 'casting out the nines' I think is very old, as I haven't met it before) or looking at modern, fun applications of maths, such as the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but we are always going to uncover some nugget, and I deem this book friendly, not in the large-print format, full of banter approach I was expecting, but in the compellingly comprehensive look at science and esoterica the thorough achievement has given us.

You will notice all my numbers so far, random dig at 187 aside, have been the single digit numbers. Niederman definitely struggles later on - I work out that 33% of the numbers have 61% of the content. But he can still elucidate. I hazard a guess this website's techie boffin will be interested to know he shares a name with Keith numbers - and if he looks them up on Wikipedia he will find an entry a lot less user-friendly than in these pages. And who could resist weird numbers - like that very weird entry, 70?

This book shows the people who created a whole book regarding the history and science of zero to be nowhere near a fluke. It covers so much, and makes us all aware, for whatever reason we choose to read it, that every number might be interesting, quirky, and definitely relevant - just, then, like this volume. It's definitely worth three squared over two stars.

I must thank the publisher's kind people for my review copy.

File this next to Professor Stewart's Hoard of Mathematical Treasures by Ian Stewart. For the way people use data as numbers, we enjoyed They've Got Your Number by Stephen Baker.

Buy Number Freak: A Mathematical Compendium from 1 to 200 by Derrick Niederman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Number Freak: A Mathematical Compendium from 1 to 200 by Derrick Niederman at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Number Freak: A Mathematical Compendium from 1 to 200 by Derrick Niederman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Number Freak: A Mathematical Compendium from 1 to 200 by Derrick Niederman at Amazon.com.


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Supposed techie boffin said:

Well, the Wikipedia article went right over my head, but I found http://www.cadaeic.net/keithnum.htm which spells Keith numbers out well. It sounds like a fascinating book.


Don Maynard said:

4444444444

Hint: That's taking it a bit too far.

Yours truly, Donald Maynard