Tung's Reviews > The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure

The Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
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's review
Jan 01, 12

bookshelves: children
Read in January, 2012

Imagine that a math teacher wanted to write a children's book to show kids how cool math really was; but since it's a math teacher and not an English teacher doing the writing, all you end up with are math concepts written out in analogies similar to what you'd hear in a math classroom -- that's what this book is like. The story is about a boy named Robert who hates his math class and math teacher and by extension math in general. He falls asleep and over a series of twelve different dreams over twelve different nights, he learns about different math concepts from a dream guide who calls himself a Number Devil. The devil presents math concepts in kid-friendly terms and even uses kid-friendly language to describe them. For example, instead of using the term exponents, the devil uses the term "hopping"; he also calls prime numbers prima donna numbers. And obvious spoiler, but Robert comes to appreciate math by the end of the book. My first criticism is that half of the number concepts aren't described as cleverly as prima donna numbers. Calling Fibonacci numbers Bonacci numbers or Pascal's Triangle a Numbers Triangle is simply lazy. My second and bigger criticism is that the prose is terrible. The dialogue between Robert and the devil reads far less like a boy talking to a dream figure, and more like a math teacher talking to an imaginary student who is engaged in his lesson. I like math and find it fascinating, but this book irritated me more than made me appreciate numbers. I'm sure math teachers are massive fans of this book; I was not.
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