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The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers (Penguin Press Science) Paperback – 4 Sep 1997


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Rev Ed edition (4 Sept. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140261494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140261493
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 193,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

About the Author

DAVID WELLS has written extensively on problems and popular mathematics, and many of his titles are available in Penguin. He is involved in education through writing and research, and lives in this country.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Primoz Peterlin on 10 Dec. 2000
Format: Paperback
In the foreword to G.H. Hardy's book A Mathematician's Apology, C.P. Snow tells an anecdote about Hardy and his collaborator Srinavasa Ramanujan. Hardy, perhaps the greatest number theorist of 20th century, took a taxi from London to the hospital at Putney where Ramanujan was dying of tuberculosis, Hardy noticed its number, 1729. Always inept about introducing a conversation, he entered the room where Ramanujan was lying in bed and, with scarcely a hello, blurted out his opinion about the taxi-cab number. It was, he declared, "rather a dull number," adding that he hoped that wasn't a bad omen. "No, Hardy! No, Hardy," said Ramanujan, "it is a very interesting number. It is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways."
Usually it takes a great deal of insight as well as considerable mathematical training to discover a yet unknown properties of some number. Only recognizing the beauty of a number pattern is much easier, though, especially with a friendly book like this one on hand. Wells, a long-time mathematics popularizer, has collected over 1000 numbers he considers interesting. Each of them is given a short explanation, often accompanied with a bibliographic reference. Celebrities among the numbers, like i, e or Pi, are given a more comprehensive treatment. Included are also several sequences, like Fibonacci's, Mersenne's, Fermat's, Carmichael's or Kaprekar's, each accompanied with its explanation. So are cyclic, amicable, untouchable or lucky numbers, and many more sequences you probably didn't know about.
While Wells' dictionary certainly gives the impression of a well-researched work, the list of numbers is by no means exhaustive.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By S. Powell on 8 May 2003
Format: Paperback
David Wells has assembled an unique and readable collection of facts about numbers, arranged in numerical order! Entries are fascinating, for the most part, though they can be frustrating, too. For example, when first encountering the notion of automorphic numbers (numbers whose squares end in the same digits as the original number), it is tempting to discover if there are other related entries -- 'trimorphic numbers', for instance? It is possible to track these down using the small index provided and quite fun to do.
Unlike other dictionaries this is best read from front to back though it can be used as a reference, once one is familiar with it.
Many concepts are briefly explained as they are encountered, and some merely referred to in passing, and the frustration here is that there need not be full information in the text. However, this is most enjoyably resolved by brushing up one's own skills and trying to demonstrate the simpler claims for oneself. There is plenty here for the dabbling amateur to try, though the serious mathematician can also enjoy the book.
I have one qualification: David Wells identifies 51 as the least uninteresting number (no, not a contradiction: it is simultaneously interesting and uninteresting, he claims) -- because he cannot find an interesting fact about it. He fails to notice that it is the fourth trimorphic (and non-automorphic) number: 4, 9, 49, 51 and 75 being the first five cases. This means that it is mildly more interesting than at first supposed.
I look forward to a revised edition -- with readers' contributions and comments.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Charles Ashbacher on 15 Jan. 2015
Format: Paperback
While the content is dated by the ongoing research in mathematics as well as what can now be done with modern computers, it is still a fascinating book to examine. Wells writes with a high degree of clarity and understanding, explaining quite clearly why the selected numbers are so interesting.
The book is organized in the form of a dictionary, starting with -1 and i then moving in the general direction of ascending order. Most of the numbers in the dictionary are integers. The largest number that appears is Graham's number, 3↑↑↑3, a number so large that a new notation had to be invented to represent it.
If you are someone that loves numbers and all of the strange and continually fascinating properties that they exhibit, then this is a book that is timeless even though dated.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 23 Oct. 2001
Format: Paperback
Books which are great for dipping into for a few minutes take pride of place in the loo - this one included. It is just tremendous - full of interesting stuff for any geeks who like numbers and maths. You'll come back to this book time and time again - the loo becomes a more inviting place with this book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 26 Jan. 2000
Format: Paperback
If you are at all interested in maths or numbers, this book is a must. It lurks dangerously on the bookshelf and if you are tempted to dip in for a few minutes or to find something about a specific number, you will still be there an hour later. Wonderful stuff.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 12 April 2000
Format: Paperback
This book has an interesting comment on every curious or interesting number you can think of. Pure Brilliance. You can't read the whole thing through at once- It's a mathematician's pocket reference to "What is that sequence called again?" and everything that a maths freak like me could want.
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By M H SHAW on 16 Feb. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Curious and Interesting is right. If numbers grab you, this needs to be on your bookshelf. There is some deep mathematics, but you can either revel or skip it. Algebra, arithmetic and geometry abound, but its attraction is the huge amount of fascination available by just plain messing about with numbers in a massive way. Whimsy, biographical snippets, and surprises are everywhere. It's a dipping book for relaxation and a practical book for special birthday comments! Did you know that 18 is the sum of the digits of its cube?
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