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Alex's Adventures in Numberland: Dispatches from the Wonderful World of Mathematics

4.05  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,402 Ratings  ·  298 Reviews
Explodes the myth that maths is best left to the geeks. Covering subjects from adding to algebra, from set theory to statistics, and from logarithms to logical paradoxes, this title explains how mathematical ideas underpin just about everything in our lives. It also explains the strategy of how best to gamble in a casino.
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published May 1st 2010 by Bloomsbury UK (first published 2010)
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Jun 23, 2015 Ms.pegasus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in games, puzzles, and mathematical connections
Alex Bellos is a gifted writer who has embarked on a mission to popularize mathematics. He makes a frank observation that should give pause to any reader: “By age 16, schoolkids have learned almost no math beyond what was already known in the mid-seventeenth century, and likewise by the time they are 18, they have not gone beyond the mid-eighteenth century.” What ensues is both a historical tour and spontaneous encounters with some of the most eccentric people currently operating on the fringes ...more
Aamil Syed
This is a fabulous chronicle of the most esoteric subject in existence!

Alex Bellos is witty, serious, engaging and if I may say so, utterly charming in his narration of the history of mathematics. He has organized the book in the way that allows him to be chronological while also taking diversions from time to time to connect with what's happening now in the field of mathematics.

He begins with a systematic exposition of the idea of numbers and the need for them and progresses steadily at a reall
Alan Wightman
Alex Bellos attempts to engage the general public in mathematics by describing maths in a way that anyone can understand. He commences by describing how different cultures use counting and numbers, and in many ways this is the most interesting part of the book. Several cultures, for instance, have no name for any quantity greater than about 4.

I have a degree in mathematics, but there were many things in the book that were new to me, and some that made my jaw drop. My feeling is though, that any
Koen Crolla
The world of maths can seem mind-boggling, irrelevant and, let's face it, boring. This groundbreaking book reclaims maths from the geeks.

This is how the blurb on the back cover starts. Alex's Adventures in Numberland isn't quite as awful as that suggests, but it's very apparent Bellos is a journalist, not a mathematician. He shares with most of his colleagues a subconscious but profound contempt of experts (to his credit, at least it is subconscious), an inability to distinguish substance and le
Dec 23, 2011 Nathan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fact
When I was a kid, I remember reading and loving E.T. Bell's "Men of Mathematics". I later learned that his scholarship leaves something to be desired, but he brought out the humanity and genius of the big names and famous characters of mathematics. Bellos doesn't have a similar goal in "Alex's Adventures in Numberland", as he's just as interested in applications and the quirky patterns of maths as he is in the people behind it, but he captured my interest the way no writer since E.T. Bell has. Y ...more
Brian Sison
This is a great book that delves into the fascinating history of math. Stops along the way include the advent of zero, the use of the abacus and the sliderule, the search for the trillionth decimal in pi, the Fibonacci sequence, the golden ratio, fractals, varying levels of infiniti, counting cards in blackjack, the definition of what's "normal", and straight lines that aren't straight.

Unlike some books that try to cover so many topics, Bellos goes into enough depth in each chapter to educate, e
I'm not the intended audience for this book. The intended audience is professional middle class people who used to like maths but got busy with other things. As a teenager who mostly likes maths, it was maybe a little less relevant to me? Still, I appreciated it for being both entertaining and informative. I definitely recommend it to people who like maths, or who want to like maths more. It was amusing and interesting and basically convinced me that maths is cool after a year of suffering in ca ...more
Jul 05, 2015 Priya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read for everyone. Those who love math will enjoy it thoroughly and those who don't are likely to develop a keen interest in the subject.
Jul 20, 2011 Libyrinths rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a thoroughly fun book! Yes, I got the book because of the title. I figured anyone with a good sense of humor like that might do a reasonable job on a popular math book. It exceeded expectations!

Bellos does a lively romp through various everyday (and some not so everyday) things with little resort to heavy equations or other soporific or brain-wrenching stuff. He covers sudoku, magic squares, number sequences, the probability and statistics of gambling and betting systems, pi and transcenden
Jul 24, 2012 Christy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This strays so far from my normal read, but I found it very interesting, and Bellos' writing was engaging.

I've been spending the summer feeling like one of the teachers from Pink Floyd's The Wall, forcing my 12 year old to study Algebra in preparation for next school year. It's been shear hell for both of us. Neither of us likes math, but I'm a really stubborn woman & I've been seeking sources that will make math & algebra more accessible, more understandable, maybe even interesting. Who
Nov 07, 2011 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I'm not a math person by any stretch of the imagination, but I found this book to be a lot of fun...until about halfway through when some of the math discussions started going way over my head (but that's my fault, not the author's). This is basically a book about the history of mathematical thought and Bellos does a good job of pulling it all together in an entertaining and informative way. We learn where numbers come from, how we went from counting sticks to written numbers, the invention of z ...more
Jul 17, 2015 Valeria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5--one of the better popular math/science books I've read. Not too technical, very engaging, though sometimes his comments can be a bit...
Ben Thurley
Deftly written and engaging, and manages to be (mostly) comprehensible to the non-mathematician. Bellos clearly loves him some numbers, and expresses his wonder and excitement well. It's also a fun and quirky ride that covers counting, maths tools from the Rig Veda, gambling, geometry, sudoku and more.

No, I did not know that there are sets of infinities greater than infinity. I wasn't aware that crochet was instrumental in 20th Century breakthroughs in maths and physics. Fibonacci numbers help e
Kitty Jay
Mar 15, 2015 Kitty Jay rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kitty by: C.F.
There is a difference between a primer and something written for laymen. This book more closely aligns with my interpretation of the former. For people who have no familiarity with mathematical concepts, this book would probably be delightful. For those who are aware of the more famous math intrigues but are amateurs (or, like me, more interested in the history, applications, and explanations than the proofs), this book retreads old, familiar ground. Anyone who watched Numb3rs or – painful thoug ...more
Mar 29, 2014 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed all of the stories and trivia about all things math related. It was interesting how the author tied together the scope of math from who counts and why up through modern math research. Much of the "narrative" follows the subtly deep influence of a numeral system on our understanding and ability to ale sense of the world. I also particularly liked how he wove in various puzzles and games like rubiks cubes, sudoku, and tanagrams as well as understanding probabilities and chance thr ...more
Feb 08, 2014 Jessica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The January read for my nonfiction bookclub. Pretty interesting for a book about math! Not a narrative title, it can easily be read in bits according to what interests you. Bellos covers the history of numbers and covers lots of topics ranging from probability and gambling to different bases and patterns. There's something for everyone who has found some aspect of math interesting, even if you aren't good at it! Each chapter progresses into some more complicated explanations, but if you get to t ...more
I found this book on the bargain rack at a book store and purchased it in anticipation of reading it on an upcoming trip. It looked liked the kind of book one could read in spite of the frequent interruptions that accompany flights and hotel stays. In the end, I took other reading and this book sat on my bookshelf unread for quite a while (though, it turns out, it is suited to the purpose for which I bought it).

Recently, someone whose last math course was high school geometry told me of her ren
Oct 04, 2013 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: curious, interested people
Recommended to Barbara by: My Mommie
A bouncy and fascinating history of math.......but that's just the start.

Mr. Bellos also weaves in studies and observations about how math wires the brain, and how children in some cultures learn to count earlier because of the names of numbers.

This is a very interesting and inspiring book, especially for those of us who think in words, not numbers, but who are interested in the very act and method of thinking.
Nov 06, 2015 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable three evening read. Begins with counting. Do we need to count? Some cultures cannot progress beyond five. They have survived for eons. Now they face the 21st century outside world. I think it is healthy that it takes a village to raise a child.

Around the bases and into the abacus. Shepherds have used base 20, PCs base 2, case to be made for base 12. some civilizations have used base 64.

The importation from India of the zero which opened up the number line and sent us into an immense
Karyn Gayle
Jun 14, 2014 Karyn Gayle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best book about platykurtic & leptokuric distributions and hyperbolic geometry I've read in a long time! But seriously, I LOVED this book. A lot of the math and concepts, I already knew from my brief engineering (school) days, but had forgotten and was so excited to be reminded to share with my 4th grader who is a math team competitor. He saw how excited I got over the book and wants to read it. It's written for adults, but I believe most people can understand enough of the mathematical conc ...more
George Anderson
Jun 07, 2016 George Anderson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this and Alex Bellos later book compelling reading. This because I have used math most of my 50 year career in one way or another and was originally blessed with a broad math education during which I managed to just achieve average grades. The treatment of math from a historical prospective is always interesting and I found that I was learning more about areas that had faded from memory or were new or overlooked developments. I am not sure if these books are as enjoyable to the average p ...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
Jul 26, 2012 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mathematics
A very delightful approach to mathematics. It was lighthearted and touched on subjects that would interest most audiences. I think the statistical gambling section would be of particular interest to a few friends of mine and I will have to pass along at least these sections.
Jan 05, 2013 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent introduction to Maths - how could i ever have found it boring...? And why did no one ever tell me at school what Pi was for, or quadratic equations?

There have only been a couple of pages when I've glazed over. Really loved the section on Fibonacci numbers...
Dec 02, 2014 Nick rated it really liked it
A heavy read with lots of mathematic equations. I am pretty sure I didn't get half of what was discussed but I still really enjoyed the passion with which the author wrote. I have to admit it has kindled a small fire with regards to my interest in mathematics. Many of the concepts that were explained here I was familiar with in principal but this book took a number of them further and expanded my understanding and in doing so blew my mind (Hilberts hotel and proof that one infinity can be bigger ...more
Dave Hill
Apr 03, 2012 Dave Hill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you read just one book about math this year, it should totally be this one and I am right about everything.
Eric Roston
I haven't read this yet but it's the greatest book title in the history of written language.
Hassan Abdullah
Jun 09, 2014 Hassan Abdullah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really good book for anyone who want's to rekindle their relationship with the world of math and numbers. Or even start a one!

Just a couple of notes:
- The first few chapters are about numbers, not really "math".
- A lot of the book is about the authors interactions with other people in many diverse fields, I really enjoyed them. You may not if you're just looking for Math.
- The Book is very well organized, which really enhances the reading experience.
- The Book can be really dumbed down somet
Susan Kerr
Nicely conversational friendly book about numbers, arithmetic and higher maths. In chapters devoted to various aspects like how we began to count at all. And where zero came from, a breakthrough concept. My fav was the one that covers What is Normal (about averaging and statistics). When it got to gambling I got lost. Geometry was also a wanderland for me. And then there is the amazing Fibonacci sequence which patterns almost everything in nature... but can't say I understand it! This was a good ...more
Marcy Stearns
Jul 23, 2014 Marcy Stearns rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed getting to know mathematics better through this book.
Joel Lehikoinen
I got this book from the Maailma Kylässä festival, as an impulse. Its cover promised more than the book delivered. It had its interesting parts, but way too many chapters were just boring and uninteresting. Also I did not really enjoy the way the book was written and/or translated.

I liked the first chapter, with its anthropological point of view to mathematics. Of the others, the best part of the book was the last chapter about Cantor's theorems. His beautiful proofs still illuminate any book;
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"I was born in Oxford and grew up in Edinburgh and Southampton. After studying mathematics and philosophy at university I joined the Evening Argus in Brighton as a trainee reporter. I joined the Guardian in 1994 as a reporter and in 1998 moved to Rio de Janeiro, where I spent five years as the paper’s South America correspondent. Since 2003 I have lived in London, as a freelance writer and broadca ...more
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“Mathematicians have, according to Wright, been "unreasonably successful" in finding applications to apparently useless theorems, and often years after the theorems were first discovered.” 2 likes
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