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Alex's Adventures in Numberland

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  4,883 ratings  ·  513 reviews
The world of maths can seem mind-boggling, irrelevant and, let's face it, boring. This groundbreaking book reclaims maths from the geeks.

Mathematical ideas underpin just about everything in our lives: from the surprising geometry of the 50p piece to how probability can help you win in any casino. In search of weird and wonderful mathematical phenomena, Alex Bellos travels
Kindle Edition, 448 pages
Published April 5th 2010 by Bloomsbury
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Mpho3 Alex's Adventures in Numberland is the original, UK version. The U.S. version of the same book is entitled Here's Looking at Euclid.…moreAlex's Adventures in Numberland is the original, UK version. The U.S. version of the same book is entitled Here's Looking at Euclid.(less)

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While I was reading this book , I noticed it was published by Bloomsbury and I remembered that a few years ago they were doing rather poorly until J.K.Rowling came along with a seven volume Christian parable for children and magically transformed their financial performance.
I might be the ideal audience for this book - turned off Maths at school, yet still mildly interested, bed bound and unwell , with limited reading choices, however I found it largely uninteresting built up of clusters of not
This was a mixed bag for me. On one hand it’s an easy read, a beach read if you will, and it covers quite a lot of math’s ground in relatively little space. Most of the anecdotes and stories about former mathematicians I already knew, but it’s nice to have them all in one place. On the other hand the bock sometimes lacks a certain depth. It is noticeable that the author is trying to offer something to readers who have little or nothing to do with numbers and maths. Only those people would probab ...more
Jun 23, 2015 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
John Gilbert
Nov 01, 2020 rated it liked it
My brain is now filled with more number facts than I ever wanted it to be filled with. I cannot believe I was a Mathmatics major in Uni for over a year and was so unknowing of so much of what Alex talked about. Numbers are indeed fascinating, if overwhelming for most of us. The early chapters about societies use of numbers and how they did not recognise numbers over what they could see or count. Why do we have ten as the basis of our numerical system rather than 12. 12 makes sense in that we hav ...more
Chaitanya Sethi
Jul 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
'Alex's Adventures in Numberland' is a book that I would want everyone to read. Part history, part sociology, and part philosophy, it traces the origins of man's desire to introduce numbers and counting into his life and how that choice has led to the growth of Mathematics today.

While it may sound strange to us, the desire to question the need for math, Alex sets the ball rolling right from the first chapter(the zeroth, in the book) where he introduces a tribal community in the Amazon who don't
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
John Gardner
Jun 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 w
Sumit Gouthaman
Oct 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Didn't believe I'll read an entire book just about math. But this one is just weirdly engaging. ...more
Oct 10, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: skipped
I like the format of the book, where all the chapters start by a story that's brings you slowly into an aspect of the science of numbers.

I found the chapters on the history of numbers fascinating. I also liked the chapters on The Golden Ratio, and on Statistics and probabilities.

But, most the Maths went through me, as I am not used to represent them in my head anymore. Therefore, I am too slow to follow Alex's Math's demonstrations.

Nevertheless, I liked the book, even if I skipped the 'back of t
Rut Noboa
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Alex’s Adventures in Numberland is a captivating read that broadens the reach of mathematics past its traditional scope. Within the conventional (or at least American-style) school system, mathematics is often contemplated as merely a stepping stone for graduation, an abstract concept that can be easily ignored if you join the humanities or liberal arts and simplified through the rise of constantly evolving computers and calculators if you go into STEM. However, Bellos manages to explore the imp ...more
Is this a great book, or did I read it at the right time? I am tutoring high-school math and found much inspiration in these pages. While there is little that is completely new for me, most of what is there is well explained. He provides a lot of historical background, starting with tribes using a number system of one, two, many. The author is not afraid of philosophy, as can be seen in this meditation on the number zero:

“Indian philosophy embraced the concept of nothingness just as Indian math
Jul 24, 2012 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 knew? T
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
Feb 06, 2021 rated it liked it
This book was recommended by many math lovers and enthusiasts. I was expecting to explore a layout of math and it's beauty, yet the topics were math-related and not mathimatical concepts. It was quite a fun read, but not as compelling as I was expecting. ...more
Dave Hill
Apr 03, 2012 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.
Feb 18, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty good pop-sci but strangely unsatisfying. Possibly I just wasn't in the right mood, but I think it's something to do with his authorial voice... ...more
May 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
What an amazing adventure through the world of math.
Jun 18, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2022
Mathematics has always been there but it requires a human understanding to become seen. Bellos focuses primarily on these subjects from an anthropological perspective which is uniquely interesting. I'm coming at this from the position of a pretty heavy maths background at this point so a lot of the theory wasn't new. I found particularly interesting the development of numeral systems, the sometimes hilarious professional feuds, probability relating to gambling and the finale which delves int
Jan 22, 2022 rated it liked it
Good book however Alex lost me / my interest many times while explaining theories and going on about details of history of maths. I really hoped this book would have explained the world around me better but instead there were waaay too many distracting details. I won't lie that some chapters really dragged. Still, I learnt quite a bit from it :)

Definitely not a maths noob book but a book for someone who already has a clue and an existing interest in maths + its history.
Jitendra Singh
Feb 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's an exceptional book but at the same time I must confess that I didn't fully understand some of the portions. But I highly enjoyed it. A must read for anyone who loves math ...more
Aly Verbaan
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Anyone with an interest in maths and history and all kinds of odd factoids about both, this is fantastic and so well presented.
Elizabeth McDonald
Jul 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Excellent, approachable non-fiction writing which combines history of math with actual mathematical concepts. Bellos addresses a different mathematical concept in each chapter, telling about its discovery, explaining how it works, and making you laugh at the same time. He consulted a variety of experts, from a linguist who studies Amazon tribes that only have words for numbers up to 4, to a Hollywood numerologist, to the man with the most impressive slide rule collection in Britain. Although I h ...more
Jul 20, 2011 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
Nov 07, 2011 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
Jun 30, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ok, some parts of this book made me feel like a mental midget, some made me feel super-smart when I understood what was being discussed and the rest made me realize why I majored in English and not math. Can anyone please explain to me why it is important to know that there are sets of numbers larger than infinity? Some of the stuff made practical sense, but who cares if the numbers between zero and one is a set of numbers larger than infinity? Will it solve a bigger problem some day or is it ma ...more
Raquel (Silver Valkyrie Reads)
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Raquel (Silver Valkyrie Reads) by: Toby Lansberry
The irony of this book is that it was so good I wanted to go through it slowly enough to absorb all the information, which led to me getting distracted and reading other things instead, so it took me approximately forever to finish it.

Entertaining and informative, and occasionally mind blowing, I would recommend this book be read by anyone who is considering whether to study higher branches of mathematics. If the concepts here intrigue you, go for it! If they put you off, go for a different f
Dec 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Erik Molnar
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Mind blown. Mission accomplished. Numbers are part of our everyday lives, but how much thought do you put into them other than figuring out how much to tip or how much you should budget for the month. I wanted to get a better understanding of numbers without having to learn all of the difficult math behind it all, most if which I never learned or already forgot how to do. This book is exactly what i was looking for. Easy read. Mind blowing concepts. There is no why behind it all, don’t look for ...more
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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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