Alex's Adventures In Numberland by Alex Bellos

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Alex's Adventures In Numberland by Alex Bellos

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Keith Dudhnath
Reviewed by Keith Dudhnath
Summary: A perfect look at all the cool, amazing and fascinating things going on in the world of maths. Part history of maths, part general trivia, it works perfectly for anyone with even a vague interest in maths. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0747597162

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Maths is a wonderful thing. ...Wait, don't run away. It really is. The way numbers interact with each other, the way counting systems developed, how mathematical breakthroughs are coming from the world of crochet, and how people can mentally calculate the 13th root of a 200 digit number in almost less time than it takes to read it out loud. There's all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff going on in Numberland.

Alex's Adventures In Numberland (known in the US as Here's Looking At Euclid) is exactly what you'd want in a popular science book: it's perfectly readable and understandable, and is packed with lots of cool things you'll want to tell everyone. I've got a bit too much business card origami strewn around me. You'll love hearing about the Yupno counting system, which starts with the 20 fingers and toes, then up to the man thing (33) via other body parts, and ends with 34 or one dead man. There's the golden ratio in iPods and and and... I ploughed through Numberland, enjoying every page, and you will too.

Yes, you'll need a basic interest in maths, but you won't need anything more than the most basic secondary school knowledge of it. There are a couple of occasions when your eyes might glaze over at an equation, but for the most part, deep concepts are all explained perfectly clearly for the layperson. In part, it's a history of maths, in part it's just a bunch of interesting stuff you can dip in and out of. It's a substantial read, but it's never unduly heavy or dry. The writing is punchy, the information fascinating, and it's an utter joy to read.

There's really nothing to fault in Alex's Adventures In Numberland. Even if you know the proof of Pythagoras' theorem, well, it's explained well enough to be worth reading again, and there are other examples to boost your knowledge. If you already know about speed-cubing, there are many other interesting things on a par with that packed into its pages. Some people might baulk at the subject matter, but it's their loss. Do yourself a favour and wander through the magical Numberland. Highly recommended.

My thanks to the publishers for sending it to Bookbag.

Our favourite popular maths books include Professor Stewart's Hoard of Mathematical Treasures by Ian Stewart and The Tiger that Isn't by Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot. For an equally well-written popular science book, you'll love Why Does E Equal mc Squared? by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw.

Booklists.jpg Alex's Adventures In Numberland by Alex Bellos is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2010.

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Buy Alex's Adventures In Numberland by Alex Bellos at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Alex's Adventures In Numberland by Alex Bellos at


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H James said:

Heard Alex Belloc on the radio this morning re his Numberland book; mentioning about kids in the Far East and their mathematical abilities. I'm not surprised, as kids in the Far East are told by their teachers to imagine an abacus in their head, which helps them to do mental arithmetic easily.

Also, depending on the shape of the object, the name of the unit differs. For example, counting flat objects it's ichi-mai, ni-mai, san-mai, yon-mai. Whereas for cylindrical objects it's ippon, nippon, sanbon, yonhon; and for cars/machinery, it's ichi-dai, ni-dai, san-dai, yon-dai; and say for fish - ippiki, nihiki, sanbiki, yonhiki. All of which, certainly makes it all the more interesting.

Keith replied:

Chapter one (actually the second chapter, as he starts with chapter zero) of Alex's Adventures In Numberland includes a look at after-school abacus clubs. It also includes anzan - the imagined abacuses you mention. The different names of the units don't feature in the book, but how fascinating!