“If there was one book that was going to be compulsory for the nation to read it would be this one” — Evan Davis
Recently I bought a very entertaining book, Alex’s Adventures in Numberland (somehow it reminds me of Alice’s adventure). Yep, as the title says, it is mainly about the world of maths. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a real geek to enjoy reading this book — it is aimed for everyone, the language used is not as geeky as the title sounds.
For most people, the world of maths may seem too puzzling and impractical for daily life. Yet Alex Bellos, the author of this book, shows us that there are so many beautiful phenomena in our daily life based on mathematics. He talks about his adventure in meeting many mathematics researchers while traveling around the world.
This book consists of eleven unrelated chapters; you may read them in any order you please.
Chapter 0: A Head for Numbers
Philosophy of numbers. Human perception about numbers and counting. Meet Munduruku tribe, who cannot count higher than five. Also learn how to teach a chimpanzee how to count and compare numbers.
Chapter 1: The Counter Culture
History of number systems. Discover how we use base-10 in daily life, how Babylonian used base-60, and how base-12 should have made our life easier, according to the Duodecimal Society of America.
Chapter 2: Behold!
History of (Euclidean) geometry. Watch several intriguing proofs of Pythagoras’s Theorem. Discover why there are only five Platonic solids. And meet Kazuo Haga, who made many interesting mathematical observations in origami.
Chapter 3: Something about Nothing
Be prepared to be surprised that the digit 0 is an additional digit in many number systems; it was not known for ages. Learn how zero simplified the world of maths.
Chapter 4: Life of Pi
Greet the mystic pi, 3.14, whose actual value can be represented in many ways, and whose infinite digits are remembered (partially) by many people in the world. Bonus: learn the most bizarre tool — a drill that can drill square holes!
Chapter 5: The x-factor
Discover how logarithm helped people to do complicated calculation before the advent of cheap pocket calculators. Also how algebra and geometry can blend together in Cartesian diagrams.
Chapter 6: Playtime
Get familiar with many famous mathematical puzzles, such as Sudoku, magic square, Tangram, 15-puzzle, Rubik’s cube, Loyd’s “Get off the Earth” puzzle, and other games.
Chapter 7: Secrets of Succession
Explore a lot of integer sequences and series, with Sloane’s On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences (OEIS). From the basic of prime sequence to the unexpected divergent harmonic series.
Chapter 8: Gold Finger
Study the ubiquitous ratio in the nature: the Golden Ratio, 1 : 1.618. It is found in many creatures in the nature, including us human. A dentist even discovered that this ratio is the secret of beautiful teeth.
Chapter 9: Chance is a Fine Thing
Learn probability theory and why casinos could gain profit. Discover how a seemingly-intelligent prediction scam emails work. And many unexpected phenomena based on our false assumptions about random numbers.
Chapter 10: The End of the Line
Bellos concludes the book with interesting stories about infinity, such as Zeno’s paradox, Hilbert’s Hotel, and explains how it is possible that the number of real numbers between 0 and 1 is exactly the same as the number of real numbers in entire number line.
That’s it, a few “trailers” of the book. I found the book very interesting to read. The world of maths, while mind-boggling, is so prevalent in our life that we cannot abandon it. This book shows us how to play and admire mathematics in a fun and instructive way.
“A magical mystery tour…. Philosophy, religion, magic, history, and basic sheep-counting are gathered together in Bellos’s bag of numbers” — The Times