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on 26 July 2008
"Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the looking-glass" are classics, and Lewis Carroll is also known as a pioneer of photography, but his mathematics is less well-known. This excellent book is a very readable account of Carroll's mathematics: his puzzles, his occasional pieces like "The Dynamics of a Parti-cle", his defence of Euclid, and his more serious work on the mathematics of voting systems, determinants and logic. Appropriately, this book is very entertaining: Carroll and Wilson share a love of jokes! You don't need to be a mathematician to enjoy this: if you want to know about Carroll's life beyond the Alice books, this is an excellent place to start.
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on 15 October 2008
Lewis Carroll in Numberland is written in the warm and witty style characteristic of Professor Robin Wilson. It is an excellent introduction to the mathematical interests and achievements of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (pron. Dodson!), aka Lewis Carroll, a man known much more for his Alice books than his mathematical prowess, which was considerable. It also gives something of the attitude and outlook of this most interesting man, the period he lived in and fin de siècle Oxford University.

If you're anything like me some of the more mathematical chapters will have you reaching for pen and paper, but that's certainly not mandatory, and there's plenty here for people who baulk at the mere mention of equations. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on logic and would recommend it to anyone who would like an introduction to this fascinating subject.

The style of the writing mirrors the playful and humorous style one associates with Carroll, a man who delighted in entertaining his friends, children and adults alike, with puzzles and games. The book is divided into short, easily digestible chapters -- which makes it perfect for the commute to work! A highly enjoyable read and I heartily recommend it.
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on 16 May 2009
The book comprised a nice balance of biography and a range of maths based content, which provide a clear accessible outline of the developments he made without going into too much detail. I peronally would have prefered less enphasis on the puzzles but it was a major interest of his.
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on 16 January 2013
To most people, Lewis Carroll is nothing but an author of childrens' books and a photographer of ill repute. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was also Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, an eminent mathematician at Oxford, with most of his work being in geometry and matrix algebra. He spent much of his time teaching undergraduates, but also children in various schools around Oxford and private pupils, and published at least as much serious work as he did fiction and nonsense. It is said that after Queen Victoria read "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", she was so charmed that she demanded that she be sent a copy of his next book. And duly, she received "An Elementary Treatise on Determinants, With Their Application to Simultaneous Linear Equations and Algebraic Equations" and was not amused.

Much of his mathematical work, being pedagogical, is now out of date and sometimes even wrong. For example, much of his energy was spent on teaching Euclid to undergraduates, material that is these days covered at A-level in a completely different way, and he was so opposed to the study of non-Euclidean geometries as to waste time writing against them. But that doesn't detract from the fact that he was a great teacher of mathematics, to students at all levels from young children to the most learnèd.

Of his works that are still relevant, his two-part "Symbolic Logic" appears (from its description in this short biography) to be worth looking at, for his method of figuring out syllogisms through diagrams, and how he expanded his diagrams to deal with showing the interactions of any number of sets, where Venn diagrams break down at six sets. In 1884 he published what is now an obscure work on psephology, "The Principles of Parliamentary Representation" in which he considers what it means for an election to be fair, and methods to achieve this in reality. I'm very pleased to say that he comes to the same conclusion that I did: large multi-member constituencies with some form of proportional representation within each constituency. And related to this, and driven by his interest in tennis, he analysed whether the traditional knockout style of tournament was a good way of ranking players by ability (it isn't: consider what happens if the best and second-best players meet in the first round) and published under his Carroll pen-name a pamphlet with the delightful title of "Lawn Tennis Tournaments: The True Method of Assigning Prizes with a Proof of the Fallacy of the Present Method" whose recommendations have not, unfortunately, been taken up. It is an interesting "what-if" to imagine whether they would have been if he had published it under the name of Dodgson and the effect this would have on knock-out tournaments in all manner of sports.

I would have liked to see a bit more space given in this biography to all three of those subjects, even bearing in mind that a biography is a book about the man, not about the details of his work. After all, if the author could fit in so much material about puns and mathematical games, he could surely fit in a bit more about those works of Dodgson's that are the most relevant today. I wonder if, perhaps, Wilson was concerned that that would make the book "too technical". If that's the reason, then Shame, Shame!

For those with an interest in mathematics (at any level, from schoolchild to professional), this book is very much worth reading and worth buying. For general readers I hesitate to recommend purchasing it except to Carroll's most ardent fans.
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on 12 September 2013
"Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."
The King giving Alice advice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
"As you might expect from a lecturer in mathematics, Lewis Carroll's books for children are brimming with mathematical allusions -- arithmetical, geometrical, logical and mechanical" is the opening line in this excellent and informative book on Lewis Carroll.
This beautifully illustrated book explores the life and works of Charles Dodgson (pronounced 'Dodson') by analyzing and exploring Dodgson's brilliant knowledge of mathematics.. Charles Dodgson is best known for his children's book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (better known as Alice in Wonderland) which he wrote under his pen name Lewis Carroll.
Alice in Wonderland and his other novels are all filled with problems, paradoxes ,puzzles and teasing games of logic. He was a brilliant mathematician who wrote numerous books and pamphlets about mathematics.
Queen Victoria was charmed by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and demanded that she be sent the next book Dodgson published. She was not amused to receive a copy of his next book which was entitled An Elementary Treatise on Determinates!
Dodgson was also a pioneer in the new and exciting hobby of photography and Lewis Carroll in Numberland explains in detail Dodgson's passion for this hobby. If it was not for his Alice books, he would now be remembered as one of the most important photographers of the nineteenth century.
The author, Robin Wilson is Professor of Pure Mathematics at the Open University and Gresham Professor of Geometry, the oldest mathematics chair in England.
The Penguin Books paperback edition of Lewis Carroll in Numberland is about 236 pages long and includes fascinating illustrations, photographs taken by Dodgson, an interesting section of references and a well structured index.

Read more at : [...]
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on 26 March 2012
lewis carrol in numberland by robin wilson story of CL dodgson the author of An Elementary Treatise on Determinants, With Their Application to Simultaneous Linear Equations and Algebraic Equations and other works this tells about dodgson from student days to university don days and reveals dodgsons work on logic puzzles , whimisical number methods and syllogisms that were funny to anyone living in the nineteenth century it also told of the mathematical and logical background to alice and the hunting of the snark and was worth continuing to the end
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on 11 March 2010
Mathematics isn't everyone's cup of tea but this is a really entertaining look at carroll's fascination for numbers. Highly recommended, and with much food for thought.
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on 8 October 2011
This helpful & fun little book does two things: it provides a miniature biography of Carroll (there's especially good and interesting coverage of his childhood and the years leading up to his decision to teach at Oxford), and it presents a number of mathematical puzzles posed by Carroll in his numerous pamphlets, letters, and books. These two aspects are more or less interwoven together, but it's easy enough to skip any puzzles that don't capture your interest.

I enjoyed the biographical notes more than the puzzles, and as much for what they reveal about Victorian England (the social structure, educational system) as Carroll himself. The book doesn't appear to be comprehensive or particularly deeply researched (Carroll wrote an enormous number of letters, pamphlets, and books, and I certainly didn't get the impression that Wilson has read all of it; neither is there much linkage between Carroll's activities and what his colleagues and rivals were doing at the same time), but it's not really any worse for this--think of it as a selection of Carroll's most interesting puzzles, and the most interesting or best documented aspects of his life.

I read this book in a Kindle edition, and unfortunately the formatting of this edition is particularly bad. You can usually make out what's meant, but it's difficult to separate quotations from the surrounding text, poetry gets mangled, and illustrations appear in strange places. Most inexplicably "strong" appears in place of numerals in many locations throughout the text. For example you see nonsense like "This gives a total of 5 x strong = 30 different ways of painting the faces."
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on 13 June 2014
A great read and very informative on the mind of one the greatest writers ever. Of course I am a big admirer of this mans work.
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on 17 March 2010
Upon re-reading my original review of this book (and getting an 'un-helpful' response) I can see why. This is the original:

"I was entertained by Robin Wilson's really quite nice book about Charles Dodgson / Lewis Carroll. This isn't particularly challenging stuff, and hence not very rewarding. Rather Wilson's endearing ability to mix biography with mathematical and logical curiosities does not raise one's passions, nor chart exciting new territory. Hence, not very exciting. If you want to read something that grabs your imagination, inspires your emotions, or makes you see life anew, then this is not the book for you.

For my money this book does, however, reveal a point of great importance that is so often neglected. Children can have abilities that outstretch the adults who are meant to be the guardians of their education. Dodgson would present games of logic that would, by turn, either bore, or excite the minds of the children in his innocent company. It is an unfortunate blight on humanity that our minds are suffused with thoughts of abuse when adults find themselves enchanted by children and their education, and Wilson masterfully rejects the century's worth of speculation without evidence regarding possible inappropriate behaviour on Dodgson's behalf.

From a biographical perspective, this book is again disappointing, but not without merit. Dodgson's life is not articulated in such a way as I felt any connection with him, apart from the idea that he was, like me, rather dotty. Some of the anecdotal writing gives an impression of Oxford in the 19th century, which is by turns charming and aloof.

I haven't read anything else by Robin Wilson, but I get the impression that he is a much more capable writer than this book shows. This book is not quite dull, not quite boring, certainly inoffensive. A pleasant diversion."

What I was trying to get across is that given the history of literature, this is not a first-rate effort. There are a whole range of engaging works available that spell out the history of ideas, culture and civilisation. They represent a celebration of life and humanity; the cries of emancipation from Woolstonecraft and Paine; the letters of Einstien or Bela Bartok; the philosophy of the Hellenic preiod, Euclid, al-Kwarizmi, Godel and Russell. So why should anyone want to read this book? Well, it makes for a pleasant diversion. It has some important observations about life. It is not altogether a bad book. I can recommend it without a bad conscience. I felt less that I had wasted my time reading it than my time could have been spent reading something better. If it looks like your 'cup-of-tea' then give it a go, if you want to expand your horizons, then this may not offer the greatest return on your investment (nor, to be fair, was anything like that promised).
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