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The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers (Penguin Press Science) [Paperback]

David Wells
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Sep 1997 Penguin Press Science
This dictionary of numbers, arranged in order of magnitude, exposes the fascinating facts about certain numbers and number sequences. The aim of the book is to entertain and enthral the reader, which it certainly does.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Rev Ed edition (4 Sep 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140261494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140261493
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.5 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 139,855 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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
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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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't read like a dictionary 8 May 2003
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Bit of a guilty pleasure 21 Dec 2008
A book basically consisting of a list of numbers and their interesting properties can only appeal to a very small percentage of readers, but those readers will love it to the hilt.

Wells starts from 0 and reaches Graham's Number (so big it can't be written down) and all manner of each number's unique quirks are displayed. For example, 10213223 is a self-describing number (one zero, two ones, three twos and two threes), and 153 is the only number to be the sum of the cubes of its digits. If you find such things interesting, this book is a treasure trove.

By design, it's not really the kind of thing you can read through in one sitting (like a novel), but is something to be dipped into in idle moments. As a previous reviewer said, it's the perfect toilet read, and that's most definitely a complement.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Takes pride of place in the loo 23 Oct 2001
By A Customer
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful. 26 Jan 2000
By A Customer
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Brilliance 12 April 2000
By A Customer
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Maths info. 1 May 2014
By esday
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I love maths books and I hadn't seen this one...I am enthralled with it, and will spend my every free minute delving into the intricacies of its pages.
Perfect service from Amazon again. Arrived in plenty of time...Thank you!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Book for Young and Old
Full of many interesting facts to stimulate a curious young mind and refresh the knowledge of more established minds. An excellent book.
Published 14 months ago by A.M. Mutemererwa
1.0 out of 5 stars dissapointed
I am very interested in maths, this book just felt like a large list copied from other books . I would not buy anything by this author
Published 15 months ago by dr a healy
5.0 out of 5 stars Figure fascination
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. Read more
Published 20 months ago by M H SHAW
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and readable maths
Each number has a unique and interesting story. There are more to find out about numbers in this book.
Published on 22 Dec 2009 by Mr. H. Li
4.0 out of 5 stars Bedside reading
This is the kind of thing you read before going to bed, especially if you have a geeky gene. The pseudo-victorian title alone is lovable, although the book itself is a bit... Read more
Published on 30 Nov 2000 by Mr. A. Pomeroy
2.0 out of 5 stars FAIR
Although this book contained some truely interesting numbers, it seemed as if some properties had been forced upon numbers which did not have anything greatly enchanting about... Read more
Published on 23 July 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars A must buy for all who like numbers
I borrowed this from the library, 2 days later I bought it. I had to have it so I could annotate it to remember all the new and interesting facts it contained. Read more
Published on 12 May 2000
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