Customer Review

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5.0 out of 5 stars Compulsive reading even for the non-mathematician..., 8 Jan. 2013
This review is from: From 0 to Infinity in 26 Centuries: The extraordinary story of maths (Hardcover)
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I hated Maths at school and took two goes to get my Maths "O" level pass. Even now I go into panic even at something as simple as adding up a pile of money. I'll only agree, on the odd occasion when required to help run an NTFC supporters' away coach, if someone else will add up the cash - I get a different total each time!
Yet this book for me was a fascinating read, and would, I believe be equally so (with extra meaning) for the accomplished mathematician. So do not assume it is for those with number-crunching brains because really it is a compelling story of human history and the development of society hand-in-hand with the various branches of Maths that are required - yet, as the book shows, there still are tribes whose environment does not need the concept of numbers, and some for whom the expression of a number will seem bizarre to those of us steeped in numbers based on the digits of two hands - eg. some people in northern Australia still indicate the number 9 with their shoulder!

The reason the book works on all levels is an easy-to-understand writing style, plenty of visual examples, lots of "factoids" in boxes, and an explanation of how a system works: even if you are unable to follow the workings to the "n"th degree, you will still grasp the priciples. It isn't a "dry" publication, it is bubbling with life.

You are taken from earliest civilisation to the digital computer age in various steps through history, which gives you great insight into the human mind and the various needs for different types of maths to cope with what life throws at people. Mayan maths, Roman maths, Eastern Maths (I even understood the priciple behind the binomial coefficients of Pascal's triangle because the author did such a good job with a practical example for my addled brain), the Middle Ages, Renaissance, etc. etc. Maths also has its quirks - some mathematical mysteries took centuries to solve.

Why is it that when denoting countries in colour on a map, you in fact only need 4 colours to keep them all separate? All explained!
I very nearly understood why, when you multiply a negative with a negative it always gives a positive - that has always troubled me because my mind still thinks of numbers as heaps of oranges which you count, but I cannot compute a minus orange because how can that exist? But even if you do have a literal and troubled mind in these things as I do, I guarantee you will find this book entertaining and enlightening, and at the end of it you will marvel at how society only hangs together in the way we now have it because of mathematical understanding.
Should any alien read this, I, according to the book, must first identify myself in numerical not linguistic fashion, then they are more likely to twig something about me...so my literal mind has produced 73174247747. If an alien can get my date of birth plus various house numbers through my life, I surrender now and will enter your flying saucer and readily mate with all your women (please).
While I'm entering this new life, I suggest you read the book, and even buy another as a present for someone. Steve Riches, Northampton, UK (for the moment).
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