Top positive review
18 people found this helpful
Nifty series about numbers (no maths experience required!)
on 10 April 2012
This chirpy, factual three-part series is all about how mathematical patterns feature in the world and influence its development. Each episode is an hour long and loosely based on a theme, and they're presented in the modern infotainment style by that thoroughly pleasant chap (and professor several times over) Marcus du Sautoy.
If maths isn't your thing then there's no need to run and hide: there's hardly a hint of an awful equation or stodgy plodding through tedious theories.
Instead, each programme is made up of short segments which bunny-hop around the globe, using familiar and historical examples to demonstrate du Sautoy's argument that everything boils down to numbers in the end. There's nothing to challenge your attention span and plenty of eye-candy to keep you watching, even when du Sautoy is explaining complex number sequences and how pi turns up just about everywhere. Hence the Giant's Causeway is linked to how soap bubbles form; we learn what governs starlings in flight and how web search engines work; find out how to accurately dodge flaming projectiles from a mediaeval catapult, and discover that prime numbers affect the breeding cycle of a type of grasshopper.
The explanations often skimmed along the surface of the subject, leaving me intrigued rather than completely informed. The series aims to inspire us to learn more, rather than get to grips with the fine mathematical detail. This means it's accessible to everyone, but it also means that I felt a little short-changed at times. Du Sautoy seemed to be saying that we can leave behind superstitious belief systems and explain everything with math: but then he built up the mystery and majesty of `The Code' to the point where it became almost as inexplicable as any old-time deity.
I also didn't enjoy the constant repetition throughout each programme, where the content is trailed at the start, recapped halfway through, and repeated at the end with a trail for the next episode. Yes, thank you: got it the first time. Didn't need to see the same snapshot four times over.
However, The Code certainly is worth watching if you have the slightest interest in maths, physics or even IT. All of its themes underpin the technology which make modern life possible. There aren't many programmes which explain how to predict a lunar eclipse or how to catch a serial killer, and then neatly segue into a scene inside Chartres cathedral. Some of the filming is fun, too -- the railway sequence, for instance - and du Sautoy is an admirable tutor; affable and enthusiastic, and never patronising.
I suspect that The Code would be infuriating if you were a practising mathematician yourself. But for the woman in the street it provided interesting insights into what maths is really *for*. It's a far cry from the dry, dull presentations of yesteryear which made maths impenetrable and unappealing. Hopefully, it should encourage some viewers to take the next step and start learning how to manipulate numbers themselves...