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Alex's Adventures in Numberland: Dispatches from the Wonderful World of Mathematics [Hardcover]

Alex Bellos , Andy Riley
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 April 2010
In this richly entertaining and accessible book, Alex Bellos explodes the myth that maths is best left to the geeks. Covering subjects from adding to algebra, from set theory to statistics, and from logarithms to logical paradoxes, he explains how mathematical ideas underpin just about everything in our lives. Alex explains the surprising geometry of the 50p piece, and the strategy of how best to gamble it in a casino. He shines a light on the mathematical patterns in nature, and on the peculiar predictability of random behaviour. He eats a potato crisp whose revolutionary shape was unpalatable to the ancient Greeks, and he shows the deep connections between maths, religion and philosophy. Alex weaves a journey from primary school to university level maths, from ancient history to the computing frontline, and from St Louis, Missouri, to Braintree, Essex. He meets the world's fastest mental calculators in Germany, consults a numerologist in the US desert, meets a startlingly numerate chimpanzee in Japan, and seeks advice from a venerable Hindu sage in India. An unlikely but exhilarating cocktail of history, reportage and mathematical proofs, Alex's dispatches from 'Numberland' show the world of maths to be a much friendlier and more colourful place than you might have imagined.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; 1st edition (5 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747597162
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747597162
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15.2 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 52,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


In a charming, conversational prose style, and with diagrams to ease brain stress, he draws us into a forbidding world, often going into the history of famous bits of maths, including the origins of Tetris and Rubik's Cube.

The most immediately fascinating chapter is on the application of probability theory to gambling, with insights into slot machines, insurance, lotteries and a neat explanation of Pascal's wager on the existence of God. --Metro

What Bellos calls "the wow factor" of mathematics leaps out at the reader from every page ... The stories prove so engaging, the personalities so colorful, that readers may forget
they are mastering some powerful mathematical concepts. --Booklist

`A mathematical wonder that will leave you hooked on numbers' --Daily Telegraph

`Spectacularly successful introduction to the excitement and wonder of mathematics.' --Sunday Times

`He renders the world of numbers accessible and captivating' --Daily Express

`A truly marvellous survey of modern mathematics' --Martin Gardner, for more than 25 years author of the 'Mathematical Games' column in Scientific American

`An unforgettable journey of intellectual discovery'
--Apostolos Doxiadis, author of Logicomix and Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture

Starting with chapter zero, all twelve chapters are a fascinating exploration of the wonders of maths.
--City A.M Newspaper

Book Description

The Sunday Times bestseller
Shortlisted for the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
146 of 148 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Mathematics gets a bad press in school and elsewhere, characterized as dry and difficult ,is one of the most hated topics in a student can read. But for Alex Bellos math can be inspiring and brilliantly creative and he proves it in this book that can be read easily by most non-geeks.

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.

Exploring the mysteries of randomness, he explains why it is impossible for our iPods to randomly select songs. In probing the many intrigues of that most beloved of numbers, pi, he visits with two brothers so obsessed with the elusive number that they built a supercomputer in their Manhattan apartment to study it.

Bellos has traveled all around the globe and has plunged into history to uncover fascinating stories of mathematical achievement, from the breakthroughs of Euclid, the greatest mathematician of all time, to the creations of the Zen master of origami, one of the hottest areas of mathematical work today.From the Amazon forest he tells the story of a tribe there who can count only to five and reports on the latest findings about the math instinct and also the revelation that ants can actually count how many steps they've taken.In India he finds the brilliant mathematical insights of the Buddha and in Japan he visits the creator of Sudoku and explores the delights of mathematical games.

Whether writing about how algebra solved Swedish traffic problems, visiting the Mental Calculation World Cup to disclose the secrets of lightning calculation, or exploring the links between pineapples and beautiful teeth, Bellos is a wonderfully engaging guide who never fails to delight even as he edifies. Here's Looking at Euclid is a rare gem that brings the beauty of math to life.
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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
I've just finished reading the Kindle edition of this book and really enjoyed it, but just had to comment on the slap-dash approach to the reproductions of most of the maths and equations in it.

Wherever a fraction is used in text, it's set in a minuscule font that most of the time is impossible to read. Similarly many of the more esoteric characters used when discussing alternate number systems or concepts are represented by tiny grey smudges.

Where longer equations are reproduced, they are often typo-riddled, or inconsistently transcribed. Sometimes powers are raised above the line, other times they're just a standard numeral. At other times the typos go beyond simple typographic quirks to the point of making the equations just plain wrong. Amusingly, throughout the book it insists that the symbol for infinity is "8".

I highly recommend the book, but if you're at all interested in the numbers you'll probably enjoy a paper version more.
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108 of 113 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mathematical highlight 21 April 2010
`Alex's Adventures in Numberland' is a delightful cornucopia of stories and insights into the history and development of mathematical ideas. Peppered with wit and written with great charm, it sweeps the reader along in its exploration of the weird and wonderful world of mathematical abstractions, old and new. The narrative is greatly helped by the author's journalistic experience and his ability to use historical settings to draw the reader in to what may otherwise appear to be some tricky mathematics. The story is given a human face by the many anecdotes based on Alex's visits to talk with mathematicians across the globe, giving the book the feel of a travelogue, reflecting the best of travel writers such as William Dalrymple. Much is packed in to the 400 pages and the occasional disappointment that some of one's own favourite snippets and characters are omitted is more than compensated for by the exhilaration of the journey. A real page turner!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Maths 16 Jun 2010
I am a non-mathematician but have a keen interest in it, and as such have read many books on the subject. This book is by far the most interesting and entertaining I have come across. The writing is clear and non-academic without being condescending. The author has a very easy pleasant style, erudite while still being amusing. If you have any interest in Mathematics this book is a must. Even if your interest is slight this book may convert you entirely. Obviously I can't speak as an expert but I'm convinced even they will find many delightful surprises here.
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62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1,2,3,4 can I have a little more... 27 April 2010
By Capella
A lovely, infectiously entertaining book... it's a sort of mathematical equivalent of Bill Bryson's 'short history of nearly everything' on science.
I've just bought a second copy to give as a present.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unputdownable! 14 May 2010
As one who, many years ago, just scraped by on the minimum amount of maths needed to pursue a career in chemistry, I've always enjoyed reading user-friendly books on maths --- with strictly no exam at the end --- but this one is in a class of its own. Every page-turn brings new vistas of mathematical marvels.

For all that, among the most interesting parts were those which dealt with might be thought, by comparison, more prosaic subjects, namely, the history of maths, right from man's first efforts at counting.

I didn't want the book to end!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Numbers are fun! 8 Aug 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is not a mathematical treatise but and immensely readable adventure into the intriguing world of numbers. It is a perfect antidote for those who hated maths and arithmetic at school showing how their interest could have been aroused had they been taught wisely. Alex Bellos illustrates how numbers and relationships between individual numbers and classes of numbers are mystifyingly fascinating. Numberland is indeed a wonderland.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Adds up to a good buy
Even if you're not that numerate, there's plenty here to intrigue. Don't be put off by arithmetic. You can do it!
Published 2 months ago by Martyn Neale
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read
I enjoyed going on the journey with Alex. It's a well written and accessible to the non-mathematical. My only reservation is reference to Vedic maths as 'tricks'. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Iain Bailey
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book!
As a 16 year old girl, planning to take maths at university and beyond, this has been such an interesting book to go into depth about the things that are just never mentioned in... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Hannah
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent tour d'horizon of maths for the untrained
For people interested in the theory and development of maths who do not have a formal training, this is a great book. Read more
Published 3 months ago by mike lomax
5.0 out of 5 stars From pi to phi - a journey to infinity - AND BEYOND!
This is quite simply an extraordinary book, and probably the second book in the space of two years where I felt a genuine sadness as I reached its end (the other being a biography... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Leitir
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent buy
Great read, very informative and easy to read an understand. Would reccomend this to anyone who has any sort of interest in maths
Published 4 months ago by JohnR
5.0 out of 5 stars Present for hubby
He thinks it is really interesting, but has admitted to skipping some parts. Taking a little while for him to read
Published 4 months ago by Maureen Elliot
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind boggling
I hated Maths , anything to do with numbers my eyes glaze over . , this book has been eye opener , I only did into the book every few days . Read more
Published 5 months ago by M. J. Hayden
5.0 out of 5 stars Math Deconstructed
There are many basic concepts about math revealed in simple terms in this book which I hadn't grasped while in high school or college.
Published 5 months ago by Ramesh Ramachandra
5.0 out of 5 stars Esoteric and Excellent
This is a fascinating journey through the history and geography and sociology of mathematics. I am a non mathematician and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Published 5 months ago by D J Shattock
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