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Alex's Adventures in Numberland

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4.10  ·  Rating details ·  4,115 ratings  ·  451 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
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Kindle Edition, 448 pages
Published April 5th 2010 by Bloomsbury
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Average rating 4.10  · 
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 ·  4,115 ratings  ·  451 reviews


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Jan-Maat
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
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Matt
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
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
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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
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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
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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
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Priya
Mar 23, 2015 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.
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.
Benjamin *or so they say*
What an amazing adventure through the world of math.
Blair
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
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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
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Nathan
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
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.
Raquel Evans
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Raquel by: Toby Lansberry
Shelves: nonfiction
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
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Oscar Despard
Dec 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was an excellent, fascinating read. A comforting mix of history, anecdote and mathematical wonder, it was a brilliant book. While I preferred the style and presentation of the second book in this duo (Alex Through the Looking Glass, which I actually read before this one, and to which I gave five stars), the abstract mathematics in this book far surpassed its successor in the sheer amazement it created. The last chapter utterly stunned me, in particular.

I have always loved maths, but knew on
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Ishwarya
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I would highly recommend this book to all high school students, college students and everyone else who have learnt basic Maths. Especially, teachers and parents who teach Maths, pls read!! The beauty of this book is that the history of centuries of Math has been covered in a breezy fun to read way. It is an easy read and yet made me almost spiritual by showing me the beauty of Maths..I pity myself for not seeing it all this time and glad I read this book!
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
Howard Tobochnik
I read Here's Looking at Euclid after reading Bellos' other book Grapes of Math. These two books have a very similar style, and I think I enjoyed both equally. Bellos really does a great job explaining big ideas in mathematics, while fitting in history, mathematicians, puzzles, and jokes. Here are a few interesting quotes from Here's Looking at Euclid:

For the Munduruku, [who do not have a counting system past the number 5], the whole idea of counting anything was ludicrous. (4)

When King David co
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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.
Libyrinths
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
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Christy
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
...more
Emily
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
Jen
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
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
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Barbara
Oct 04, 2013 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.
Nelson
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this while traveling to Mt. Everest. Absolutely amazing. Kept me entertained till the end. Found everything Bellos wrote about incredibly fascinating. I learned a lot from this book; lots of new things. Considering it's about math and I'm almost 30 and read tons about the subject, that's extremely difficult to do. Props.
Cassandra Kay Silva
Jul 26, 2012 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.
Mark
Jan 04, 2013 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...
Hannah McDonald
Mar 13, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was assigned to read this for my Algebra math class. I have read math books that I have enjoyed, but this is not one of them. I found it painfully boring and when I found something that MIGHT be considered interesting it didn’t go into any detail. This book was very random and not helpful.
Akrabar
Sep 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic book on mathematics. The best I have read for recreational mathematics.
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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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