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A Passion for Mathematics: Numbers, Puzzles, Madness, Religion, and the Quest for Reality Paperback – 5 Aug 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 412 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons; 1 edition (5 Aug. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471690988
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471690986
  • Product Dimensions: 18.4 x 2.6 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 976,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"There is really only good advise: Read it!"  ( Zentralblatt MATH, 1112–7)

From the Back Cover

A smorgasbord of math puzzles, factoids, quotations, trivia, formulas, and much more

Are you fascinated by numbers and want to learn more? Does the vast world of math problems that humans have solved and the ones we have yet to begin to comprehend give you goose bumps? If so, this is the book for you. A Passion for Mathematics is an educational, entertaining trip through the curiosities of the math world, blending an eclectic mix of history, biography, philosophy, number theory, geometry, probability, huge numbers, and mind–bending problems into a delightfully compelling collection that is sure to please math buffs, students, and experienced mathematicians alike.

In each chapter, Clifford Pickover provides factoids, anecdotes, definitions, quotations, and captivating challenges that range from fun, quirky puzzles to insanely difficult problems. You′ll encounter mad mathematicians, strange number sequences, obstinate numbers, curious constants, magic squares, fractal geese, monkeys typing Hamlet, infinity, and much, much more.

If you love all things mathematical, A Passion for Mathematics will feed your fascination while giving your problem–solving skills a great workout!

"Pickover has published nearly a book a year in which he stretches the limits of computers, art, and thought."
Los Angeles Times

"A perpetual idea machine, Clifford Pickover is one of the most creative, original thinkers in the world today."
Journal of Recreational Mathematics

Inside This Book

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First Sentence
IN WHICH WE ENCOUNTER RELIGIOUS MATHEMATICIANS, MAD MATHEMATICIANS, famous mathematicians, mathematical savants, quirky questions, fun trivia, brief biographies, mathematical gods, historical oddities, numbers and society, gossip, the history of mathematical notation, the genesis of numbers, and "What if?" questions. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Matt Westwood on 4 Jan. 2008
Format: Paperback
I had trouble with this. I wasn't sure whether he was writing for precocious 3-year-olds or particularly backward adults. Mind, it can't be for children because some of the concepts used (he mentions unorthodox sexual activity once or twice) are decidedly adult. I appreciate that it can be difficult writing for the non-mathematically-inclined (you can never be sure that what you're writing is going to go way over the heads of the audience), but this guy might sometimes *try* to pitch what he writes to a particular level.

As it is, this comes across as a patronising hotch-potch of incoherently disconnected factoids interspersed with some genuinely profound quotes, puzzles ranging from the stupidly trivial to the still-unsolved, and a style that while attempting to be amusing comes across as the sort of embarrassing as your father dancing to Top Of The Pops.

The same fact is often repeated over and over again, as if he has forgotten he's already said something, and it's like hearing someone say the same joke over and over again. Aargh.

He also has an obsession with extraterrestrialism (but then you knew that), which also grates across the nerves in this context.

Having said that, some of the facts here *are* interesting, and the quotes could do with being extracted into their own book on the lives and thoughts of the great mathematicians - but if this is your sort of thing then I direct you to David Wells' excellent "Curious And Interesting Numbers".

Give this one a miss (unless you find it in a bargain bin and have a couple of hours to kill), and for goodness sake do *not* get it as a gift for someone.
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Format: Paperback
The information in this book is present as small factoids, most are in the region of 50 - 150 words. It is peppered with definitions and interesting looking equations, this is likely to appeal only to those genuinely interested in maths. Perhaps the title of the book gives it away. If you have read Fermat's Last Theorem (or similar), or are a maths/ physics student then this book may appeal to you. There are enough equations and diagrams to scare away most of the human population. The presentation is a bit messy, it looks something like the classifieds page of a newspaper.

The book covers some basic ideas from number theory, geometry and probability. In doing so he covers some of the history of maths and the key people. Most of the ideas presented I already knew about but there is still quite a lot of obscure facts that I hadn't come across before. The explanations are pretty simple and is roughly aimed at the layman but I fear this book may never appeal to those that are have only the barest interests in mathematics. There are a few explanations that are too succinct for non-experts to really understand and some supplementary reading on wikipedia or the like is required.

There are a lot of interesting bits and pieces that did keep me engrossed from page 1 to the end but there is also a lot of stuff that I skipped (the puzzles). I did some of puzzles but I was more interested in reading about the ideas than solving the puzzles. The puzzles are repetitive, magic squares and the like seem to be in every chapter.

The author is a Christian so has a fascination with mathematical proofs of God (which are interesting) but also has myriad references to Jesus through out the puzzles. Naturally this may upset the staunchest of atheists.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 24 reviews
77 of 88 people found the following review helpful
Pickover has 'picked over' the same material one too many times 12 July 2005
By Puzzle and Origami Enthusiast - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Clifford Pickover is clearly proud of his prodigious output of books. Many of his book jackets highlight the fact that he's published one book a year. But at what price? I eagerly grabbed this book only to see some of the same old puzzles resurface that I've seen in two or three of his other books. I get the sense that Pickover has a giant file of math snippets that he reshuffles and repackages with slightly changed themes in each new book.

Don't get me wrong; I think Pickover is a great popularizer of mathematics. I just wish he'd stop recycling the same material.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Beyond Ordinary Numbers 23 Nov. 2005
By Ross Ellis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Clifford A. Pickover, "A Passion for Mathematics," many figures, an answer section, a section of mathematical artwork.

The book is a real treat. Chapter 2, titled "Cool Numbers" (pgs 45-110) is particularly encyclopedic. In this chapter, the reader learns about fascinating numbers and strange number sequences. Topic covered: transcendental numbers, octonions, surreal numbers, obstinate numbers, cyclic numbers, Vibonacci numbers perfect numbers, automorphic numbers, prime numbers, Wilson primes, palindromic primes, Fibonacci primes, Sophie Germain primes, Baxter-Hickerson primes, star-congruent primes, narcissistic numbers, amenable numbers, amicable numbers, p-adic numbers, large palindromes, factorions, hyperfactorials, primorials, palindions and hyperpalindions, exotic-looking formulas for pi, the Golay-Rudin-Shapiro sequence, Mill's constant, wonderful Pochhammer notation, famous and curious math constants (like Liouville's constant, the Copeland-Erdös constant, Brun's constant, Champernowne's number, Euler's gamma, Chaitin's constant, the Landau-Ramanujan constant, the golden ratio, Apéry's constant, and mathematical constants almost too strange to contemplate.)

Other topics: Jesus and mathematics. Why is the number 13 considered unlucky? Who discovered pi? What are "nimbers"? What would happen if everyone's body weight were quantized and came in multiples of pi pounds?

Something for all readers.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
More wonders of numbers 11 July 2005
By Paul Moskowitz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In a "Passion for Mathematics", Clifford Pickover takes up where he left off in his widely-acclaimed book "Wonders of Numbers." The passion in the title refers to the work of Ramanujan, a mathematician from India who startled the world with equations seemingly pulled from thin air. Ramanujan credited a goddess, Namagiri, for his inspiration. Thus, part of this work deals with the life and legacy of Ramanujan.

The passion may also refer to Pickover's infatuation with the riddles of mathematics. He deals with classic problems such as that of the Bridges of Konigsberg or the always popular secrets of magic squares. Some of the mathematical investigations are a little further off the beaten track. For example, what is the most forgettable license plate? A friend of Pickover, a physicist, actually has a plate with the string of letters "syzygys." (See "customer image") Is this impossible to remember? Most people may say yes. However, it is easy to recall if you are a solar eclipse devotee or a fan of the musical group of that name. Pickover concludes that the string with the highest entropy (the most disorder) is the most forgettable, e.g., the binary string 11010010.

This is an excellent book for those who would like to share the passion for mathematics of Ramujan and Pickover.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A Treasure Chest of Curisoities 12 July 2005
By Al Stewart - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book quite a bit and found material I had never encountered before in any book. In particular, these novel topics included: Schmidhuber circles (created by some very simple rules), the world's most forgettable license plate, calculating prodigy Rudiger Gamm, and several fascinating snippets on tic-tac-toe.

Pickover has a particularly interesting set of sections that introduce the reader to numbers like Conway's nimbers, octonions, surreal numbers, and related. There's also quite a collection of mathematical constants to ponder: Apery's, Brun's, Chaitin, Champernowne, coincidental, Copeland-Erdös, Euler's gamma, Euler-Mascheroni, fine structure, golden ratio, infinite power tower, Landau-Ramanujan, Liouville, Mandelbrot, Mill's, pi, and Thue.

Finally, the book is littered with great-looking formulas from Ramanujan. Just how could Ramanujan have discovered these gems?

I liked some if the odd prime number contests and challenges, especially the "Triangle of the Gods," where Pickover had asked colleagues to find the first prime number in this interesting growing triangle:














9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Marvellous collection of curious math facts 30 May 2006
By Owen O. Shea - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Clifford A. Pickover's book A Passion for Mathematics is a marvellous collection of curious math facts that is sure to please lovers of Recreational Mathematics everywhere.

Pickover's book is filled with math curiosities that will enchant all those with a genuine interest in and love of recreational mathematics.

Pickover's book contains many mathematical gems. Within its covers there are many beautiful and interesting formulas involving the famous math constant, Pi. On page 78 of the book Pickover gives a truly beautiful and wonderful equation involving the two famous transcendentals, Pi and e. This equation illustrates the beauty and harmony that is to be found throughout mathematics.

The book is crammed with extremely interesting number facts. Many delightful puzzles are also packed between its covers.

I particularly liked Pickover's discussion of Sam Loyd's mixed teas puzzle, which illustrates just how good a mathematician Sam Loyd was.

This book will find a very welcome place on my bookshelf. Pickover's book will also be welcomed by all those who like to read about or collect curious mathematical facts and oddities.
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