Surprising, indeed! This book (and my puchase of it) is proof that a great title can sell a book. I’d never heard of the author. I’m not particularly interested in math, and have certainly never intentionally read over 300 pages about it. A month ago it would have been difficult for me to conceive of something so seemingly dull as a book about math.
But I loved this book!
Part of the appeal of the book is its author. I am convinced that Alex Bellos could make anything interesting. He is a gifted writer, who just happens also to be a gifted mathematician; the perfect left/right-brained combination to make something like this work.
The book is ordered into twelve chapters (numbered 0-11; Chapter Zero is, fittingly, about the concept of zero and how it’s invention changed the world). Each chapter can be read individually, which, as Bellos says, means you can skip any chapters that you find boring… but I can pretty much guarantee that won’t happen. For a book about numbers, the content is largely narrative, as opposed to being arranged in lists, tables, and other mathematical ways. The author uses his skills as a journalist to track down some remarkable people from all parts of the world, and engages readers in their fascinating stories.
The “World of Math” truly is astonishing. From ancient philosophy and counting monkeys to sudoku puzzles and how to beat the odds in the casino, my mind was consistently blown on every page (but in a good way!). If I start listing individual facts that amazed me, I wouldn’t be able to stop, so you’re going to just have to read this book for yourself.
You don’t have to know advanced math to enjoy this book. Honestly, you probably don’t need to know much at all about math, or be particularly good at it. Bellos never assumes too much about his audience. You merely need to love a good story, and be prepared to be thoroughly entertained. Buy it here.
P.S. — This book has opened my eyes to an entire genre that I never knew existed: “Recreational Math Books”. I’ll definitely be returning to this well!