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Thinking In Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math

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3.49 of 5 stars 3.49  ·  rating details  ·  720 ratings  ·  134 reviews
A stunning rumination on math and numbers from the bestselling author of Born on a Blue Day.

THINKING IN NUMBERS is the book that Daniel Tammet, bestselling author and mathematical savant, was born to write. In Tammet's world, numbers are beautiful and mathematics illuminates our lives and minds. Using anecdotes, everyday examples, and ruminations on history, literature, a
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Hardcover, 288 pages
Published July 30th 2013 by Little, Brown and Company (first published August 1st 2012)
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8th out of 101 books — 15 voters
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The Pi Collection
16th out of 34 books — 13 voters


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Community Reviews

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Ben Babcock
I can’t resist picking up mathy books when I’m in a bookstore. As a mathematician, I love broadening my knowledge about the field—and seeing what passes for “popular mathematics” these days. Thinking in Numbers is a slim volume that promises to “change the way you think about maths and fire your imagination to see the world with fresh eyes”. It didn’t do that for me—but maybe that’s because I already think about maths that way. Daniel Tammet is an exceptionally talented voice when it comes to pr ...more
Jessica McCann
When it comes to math and numbers, generally speaking, I am not a fan. I'm a word girl. And yet, in THINKING IN NUMBERS, Daniel Tammet has found a way to help me appreciate the complexity, the magic and, yes, even the beauty he sees in numbers. Early on in this book of essays, Tammet put math into terms I could understand.

"Like works of literature," he wrote on page 10, "mathematical ideas help expand our circle of empathy, liberating us from the tyranny of a single, parochial point of view. Num
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Dan
In turns fascinating and exasperating, as I imagine it might be to talk with someone, whom, like the author, is a savant in a particular area of knowledge, but not others. The author's abilities with numbers and linguistics are notable, and that comes through in page after page of these short essays on, as the subtitle indicates, life, love, meaning and math. At the same time, he shows a remarkable lack of grasp of areas outside of those, and his conclusions and musings often seem contrary to wh ...more
Shannon
Speechless. So here are some quotes.

Epigraph: "Like all great rationalists you believed in things that were twice as incredible as theology." ~Halldor Laxness

"the play between numerical concepts saturates the way we experience the world." (xvii)

"Like works of literature, mathematical ideas help expand our circle of empathy, liberating us from the tyranny of a single, parochial point of view. Numbers, properly considered, make us better people." (10)

"The Brothers Grimm introduced me to the myster
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Paula
I received this book from the GoodReads First reads giveaway program. Thank you author/publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book.

Thinking in Numbers by Daniel Tammet is a book of twenty-five short essays relating to math and our lives. I personally liked several of the essays but there were some that I just couldn't relate to. I did find myself doing some of the math calculations as I was reading. In the essay Proverbs and Times Tables, I do remember learning some of the number
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James Swenson
Interesting and poetic. Caveat: much of this book is about numbers, but very little of it is about math. Its main value is the insight it offers into the author's differently-functioning brain.

I'm unable to quit without mentioning that the author fell into a couple of mathematical errors. The first of these occurs as Tammet disparages the techniques of high-school algebra:


x^2 = 2x + 15. I word it out like this: a square number... equals fifteen more than a multiple of two. In other words, we ar
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Gary
The book listens like a long poem and explains how our understanding of the world comes about through our imagination and understanding the maths that make up our world and is the key to understanding our place in the universe. As in any good poem it's probably best listened to by the author who wrote it. It did take me all of three minutes to realize that the author was a very good narrator and his speech patterns did take those three minutes for me to get used to. After that, I realize he was ...more
Miriam
A brilliant exploration of the way Tammet's mind works, but also of the way that numbers influence our lives. I think of myself as a "word" person, not a "number" person, but this beautifully written series of essays about numbers made me love them.
Sue Smith
Finally finished! Not that this was a bad book - no, it was genuinely interesting with spots of true insight and genius and lots of chin rubbing, hmmmmm moments. No, it was a worthy read.

But it was the best soporific book I've ever had the pleasure to read.

My reading habits have been - uhh...... 'curtailed' - in the last year due to extenuating circumstances. So my reading times have been relegated to evening, just before bed, which isn't usually an issue. But just you try it while you read a b
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Caroline
Very interesting essays that spin off from Tammet's wisp of seeing a mathematical aspect of something in daily life: how we experience time, the formula behind a sestina, how the recent import of the zero during his days at school might have influenced references to nothingness in Shakespeare's plays. He studies the references to the calculus of history in Tolstoy, and reflects on Nabokov the chess player. The essays are mostly about 5 pages, and with so many the quality varies of course. But mo ...more
Brian Clegg
This collection of 25 essays by Daniel Tammet, probably best known for his feat of memorising vast quantities of digits of pi, is an enjoyable light way of getting an introduction to some of the reasons that maths is more than just a mechanism for doing science or adding up your shopping bills.

Some essay collections don’t work so well in book form, but these make excellent bite-sized nuggets, with Tammet ranging far and wide over a landscape that successfully pulls in poets, authors and playwrig
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☔Diane S.
I was always abysmal at math in school, not the ordinary stuff like addition, subtraction and multiplication, but fractions, geometry, and algebra sent me running for help. I could never understand why some people found it so fascinating and spent their lives trying to solve complicated equations, so not for me. So when this book promised to show the reader how math could be interesting, how it applied to everyday life, I though why not?

In these essays, Tammett show how math can be used for ever
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Sambasivan
Collection of disparate essays by the savant mathematician Daniel Tammet where he talks of the interest in numbers shown by various famous personalities. The author, famous for his recitation of over 20,000 digits of Pi nonstop over five hours, is clearly qualified to talk on numbers. The examples given are fairly trivial and known and some of the essays ramble without a beginning or an end. An ok read.
Todd Stockslager
Review title: Savant
Tammet is a young (born in 1979, which makes him mid 30s; he looks much younger in the picture on the flap of the book cover) autistic savant and this is his third book. I had never heard of him before but picked up this slim book of essays about numbers through my favorite method of browsing the new nonfiction at my local library and waiting for serendipity to strike. Since we moved about six months ago I live about a mile from our new library and have really rediscovered t
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Rupert
This is a philosophy book, a psychology book, an autobiography and a history book. But ultimately it's not a maths book, despite what the cover claims.

Sure, it dabbles in numbers and multiplication somewhat, but nothing beyond basic primary school level. I'm all for encouraging learning in areas where people aren't experienced, but at no point does it say that it's a book for beginner mathematicians, so why would people outside of keen mathematicians pick it up?

For example, it spends a whole cha
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Ben Oon
Random statistic: four in five reviews will rate this book five stars. (Note: this is not an actual statistic. I thought it’d go well with the title, however.)
Anyways, when looking at this book for the first time, I thought to myself, “Who seriously thinks in numbers?” Math is indeed my favorite subject by far, and I would love to spend my entire educational career studying it. Yet, as much as I relish it, I would never think about everything with numbers, as if every geometric figure had dimen
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Michael M.
Babbly chit-chat about numerology which has little to do with mathematics. Reading made me quite nervous. Title is misleading and disappointing. There are several flaws and misinterpretations, e.g.:

'Classroom Intuitions': quadratic equations have two solutions; Tammet's intuition reaches only so far to obtain one solution

'Shapes of Speech': truth values cannot be squared (multiplication not being properly defined in logic)

'The Admirable Number Pi': describing ellipses as 'pathetic'---meaning the
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Saadia
I am a fan of Daniel Tammet and loved his first book "Born on a Blue Day", 7 years ago. He is one of a handful of living geniuses and is quite, quite human and able to communicate and have a loving social life. I am awed by his ability to discuss and reframe complicated concepts using math as well as his linguistic ability. Learning and understanding multiple languages and his ability to convey his thoughts clearly, incisively and beautifully in English, his native tongue.

For example, in the "Ca
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Lynn
Never did I think I would even look twice at a non-fiction book about numbers and math. But, I recently saw "Thinking in Numbers" and boy, was I blown away.

First, let me introduce you to the author: For five hours and nine minutes in 2004 in Oxford, Daniel Tammet recited 22,514 decimal places of the number Pi. 22,514!! With nary a repetition. Daniel has "high functioning autistic savant syndrome" and he is certainly high functioning!

He shares a few mathematical facts that we probably all have h
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Damian Boni
Daniel has created an unique work of literature and math that describes and explains quirks and beauty in both language and numbers. Book is enjobale to read and does great at keeping a reader engaged. Daniel has the unique ability to cover vast expanses of multitude of subjects with insight of a master backing his explanations with stories and his personal experieneces.
The downside of the book is lack of throughout walk through of specific topics that are aproached by author. Book seems to be
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Qi
I picked up this book in the local library. The promised linkage of math and language piqued my interest. I have an uneasy relationship with math -- having a graduate degree but not actively participating in the field nor in leisure -- I was hoping to find the old sparks in my school years. Yet this book is written in a style that often at variance with my reading preference. It is likely due to the chosen style and format. The contents are often targeting on peculiar facts or theories, such as ...more
Simon Alford
This book is collection of the autistic-savant-author's essays that self-describingly "share his unique insights and delight in the way numbers, fractions, and equations underpin all our lives."

The insights are not unique. The majority of the things I read were old bits of fact nobody really cares about. For example, the author write of the beauty of a student of his learning her multiplication tables. Who cares? I'm sure you enjoyed it, Mr. Tammet, but the rest of us are normal people who don'
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Janie
Not being particularly good at maths, this book was an odd choice for me but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Tammet writes in a way that makes mathematical theories seem accessible and even beautiful to people like me who are not very number savy. It's a series of short essays on different mathematical theories and how they relate to our everyday lives, there'll be a topic in there to interest everyone. They are all well written and easy to read so 'essay' isn't quite the right word to ...more
Abdullah Addar
The answer to why should I learn math? What is it good for? Questions that we use to ask in school after being mentally fatigued from math class lies in this book. The soul & beauty of math are exposed, for the first time I feel numbers are alive and with color as Daniel Tammet views them. The different articles on math in this book were at sometimes challenging to comprehend but nevertheless changed my views of numbers & math in our lives and actually some sense was knocked into it. It' ...more
Lucy
How math affects and is affected by everyday life. Starts for him with being one of 9 children, so he thinks in groups of 9. Chess, infinity, why good mathematical solutions are beautiful, calendars, the possibility of life on other planets, reciting 5 hours-worth of the digits of pi for a Guinness-certified world record, Shakespeare's zero, multiplication tables. etc.
Some of this was way over my head, but interesting all the same. It does make me want to read his first book: Born on a Blue Day
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Carl
Aug 06, 2014 Carl added it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
There is a formula to these thoughtful, wise essays that the world pi-reciting recordholder Daniel Tammet writes: pick one mathematical concept, start with a personal or historical detail and end back on that same element, take a multidisplinary approach, be humble. It's a winning formula, regardless of whether you are a math lover or just someone who likes to think. Tammet may know numbers intimately, but his writing is clear and simple, approachable and comprehensible even by those for whom ma ...more
Kat Dornian
Daniel Tammet is an extraordinary writer, he brings such a beautiful wordplay to describing his love of numbers. Thus, he makes numbers feel very real and human. His topics are very broad and brief. He gives only a taste of the ways math touches every facet of life, sometimes with quite tenuous connections in some areas. None the less, it's a very fast book to read, and the writing style makes it very enjoyable. I questioned some of the math and history halfway through, but even if Tammet's fact ...more
Nick Turner
Between the author's and the abridger's attempts to make a dry abstract subject interesting for the lay reader, I found the concentration on surface details frustrating.
In the end it does convey the mystery and awe of mathematics, a little of what mathematicians do and why men and women feel passionate about abstractions like numbers.

I'm listening to a spoken audio adaptation abridged by Kirsteen Cameron.
In contrast to the author, I can think of English special-purpose names for small numbers e.
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Ob-jonny
This is such a fantastic book about numbers and how they influence the real world. It is written by the guy they call "The Brainman" in documentaries because of his amazing achievements. He was able to break the record for memorizing pi out to beyond 20,000 digits. It took him over 4 hours to recite all of the digits and this is discussed in a chapter of the book. Each chapter is about a different topic and they usually really stimulate the imagination. I like the chapter about big numbers becau ...more
Irene Hayes
I love thinking about things numerically but this book was all over the place. I couldn't understand if he was going somewhere exciting or if we were just in the middle of a family story. I read his first book - Born on a Blue Day - first, so I kind of knew what to expect but, oh my. I stuck it out but it was not easy. Not sure I would recommend this book. If you are looking for an extension of his autobiography, i.e. Born on a Blue Day 2, then by all means.
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Daniel Tammet was born in a working-class suburb of London, England, on 31 January 1979, the eldest of nine children. His mother had worked as a secretarial assistant; his father was employed at a sheet metal factory. Both became full-time parents.

Despite early childhood epileptic seizures and atypical behaviour, Tammet received a standard education at local schools. His learning was enriched by a
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More about Daniel Tammet...
Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind Je suis né un jour bleu (DOCUMENTS) Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired, and Sudden Savant

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“A bell cannot tell time, but it can be moved in just such a way as to say twelve o’clock – similarly, a man cannot calculate infinite numbers, but he can be moved in just such a way as to say pi.” 7 likes
“Things were changing; I was changing. All swelling limbs and sweating brain, suddenly I had more body than I knew what to do with. Arms and legs became the prey of low desktops and narrow corridors, were ambushed by sharp corners. Mr Baxter ignored my plight. Bodies were inimical to mathematics, or so we were led to believe. Bad hair, acrid breath, lumpy skin, all vanished for an hour every Tuesday and Thursday. Young minds in the buff soared into the sphere of pure reason. Pages turned to parallelograms; cities, circumferences; recipes, ratios. Shorn of our bearings, we groped our way around in this rarefied air.” 4 likes
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