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VINE VOICEon 6 May 2010
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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on 3 May 2011
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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on 16 August 2010
I found Simon Singh's 'Fermat's Last Theorem' a bit of a page turner which either makes me a right saddo or an intellectual genius. When I saw this book on one of my frequent browses I thought that sounds right up my street so bought it (it had good reviews).

Absolutely loved it, it is a romp through the history of maths in bite sized chunks which investigate certain aspects, e.g. sequences etc.

That man Euler was a genius wasn't he?

Alex Bellos has a very good way of writing, easy to read and sprinkled, sparingly, with a bit of humour too - thoroughly enjoyable. I'll even forgive him for saying 'math' once (well twice if you include a quote but that was from an American and we all know they can't speak English) and a typo in the logarithms section (can you spot it?).

Well done on an excellent book.
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on 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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on 26 April 2011
Alex Bellos's treatise on mathematics is one of those rare books that manages to delight and disappoint in equal measure. Promoted as a "richly entertaining and accessible book", there is little doubt that our guide in the mythical world of Numberland is as competent as he is charming and, with his infectious enthusiasm and gentle humour, he certainly provides his readers with some welcome clarity in several of the fundamental precepts of mathematics.

However, like many popularizations aimed at a lay-audience, the subject matter is vulnerable to the dangers of over-simplification and, given its four-hundred or so pages, "Numberland" proves to be surprisingly superficial in places. Indeed, one does not have to venture far into Bellos's world (for instance, see p.9) to find examples of sloppy, incomplete, or clumsy reasoning: it seems that, unlike Euclid, Bellos is content to presume that his audience has the requisite knowledge and critical thinking skills to identify his assumptions and recognize approximations without assistance. Clearly, this won't always be the case and such presumptions on the part of teachers and commentators alike may even explain why many people struggle to grasp basic mathematics in the first place.

Moreover, Bellos has a proclivity for things spiritual and religious and his inclination for the "deep connection between maths, religion and philosophy" gives such pseudo-science an ill-deserved legitimacy for which he offers no real justification.

Notwithstanding my discomfort, it is only fair to acknowledge that Alex Bellos never claims that his work is intended as a mathematical text book, only that it seeks to "explode[s] the myth that maths is best left to the geeks". In this respect, he is wholly successful: this is certainly an unconventional book on mathematics! Nonetheless, when viewed as an account of one man's odyssey to discover the use (and abuse) of numbers, it makes far more sense and is much more enjoyable.
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on 27 April 2010
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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on 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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on 8 August 2010
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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Personally, I don't ever remember claiming to be no good with numbers. It certainly wouldn't fill me with pride if I wasn't. I've done my share of number crunching: calculus, linear modelling, econometrics, and so on and so forth, and fifth, for that matter.

Numbers have always been functional items for me. I count my apples and eat them. I count my money and spend what I can afford. I measure the distance from A to B and estimate how long it will take to walk, drive, fly. I calculate the correlation between industry concentration and R&D expenditure.

I derive a certain pleasure from doing it, that's for sure, but I'm not about to give up any hobbies so I can do a bit more maths.

Alex Bellos, on the other hand, seems to be all about numbers. Obsessed with them.

And so he takes his readers on a journey through his obsession, dealing with everything from people who are able to do impossibly long division sums, though he doesn't mention the mystery cats who do them, to people who can only count one, two, lots; how mathematics is actually philosophy; an Indian mystic who is totally crazy but can't half do sums; people whose life revolves around adding a few billion decimal places to the calculation of pi; the chances of throwing a six or getting a line of oranges, but not of picking the right gee gee in the 3 o'clock, and the nature of natural distribution.

Some of this is interesting, almost fascinating. Some of it is mind-numbingly tedious. None of it turned my head or left me "hooked on numbers" as the Telegraph is quoted as promising on the cover. Nor does it reclaim maths from the geeks, as the blurb on the back claims.

There's some useful information here. But it ain't rock'n'roll.
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on 4 June 2010
As an engineer I have always been intereted in numbers,and completed 4 modules in Mathematics during my OU Technology degree studies.
I found Alex Bellos' book fascinating and it has given me a new perspective on dealing with numbers. Having an understanding of their origins and how various theroms have developed is magical.
I strongly recommend this book to any student interested in numbers. Having read my copy my Grand son who is 17 and wants to be an aeronautical engineer has borrowed it and finds it fascinating. The book is well planned easy to read and it is easy to flit around the chapters as they bsically stand alone. A great book, no a marvellous book.
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