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4.9 out of 5 stars
Go Figure!: A Totally Cool Book About Numb (Big Questions)
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Without math, the pyramids would never have been built. ~ Johnny Ball

Go Figure! gives children the opportunity to unlock the magic of numbers through brainteasers, mind-reading games and magic tricks. This book also contains some of the puzzles that have stumped the world's smartest mathematicians.

The author, Johnny Ball introduces concepts to make math more fun and very easy to understand. Part of what makes this book quite enjoyable is the full-color pages filled with diagrams, pictures and explanations. The concepts are divided into four main chapters:

Where do Numbers come from?
Magic Numbers
Shaping Up
The World of Math

Children will learn about Roman numerals, infinity, secret codes, World News, how counting began, shapes, chaos and logic. Johnny Ball also answers the following questions:

Did Cavemen Count?
How many molecules are in one glass of water?
What do the symbols on a Babylonian clay token mean?
How did the Mayans count?
How do insects use prime timing to survive?

How did numbers evolve? See Indian numbers go from 10 symbols to what they are today. One was originally a horizontal line. Three, three horizontal lines. Which really helps to explain why three looks the way it does today. Really fascinating stuff even for adults to read about.

As someone who enjoyed writing words upside down on my calculator in school, I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining book about how math evolved through time. There is even a page comparing 1-100 in Babylonian, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Chinese script, Hindu, Hebrew, Greek, Roman, Mayan and Modern Arabic.

The Math quiz is fun and one example:

"Find two numbers that multiply together to give 1,000,000 but neither of which contains any zeros."

You may need to buy some food for the lessons on page 72. "How can you cut a doughnut into 12 pieces with only 3 straight cuts? How is it possible to push a large doughnut through a cup handle?

The book concludes with a list of "Who's Who in the math world and then there are pages of answers to all the questions.

One of the most entertaining books on math I've ever read. Definitely will be of interest to children who have any interest in solving problems or want to make learning about math way more fun.

~The Rebecca Review
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 1, 2007
As a homeschooling parent, I have read a lot of math books written for children. Go Figure! is one of the freshest and most fun! The pages are saturated with information, and my one complaint is that it feels a bit visually overwhelming. Don't let the colorful pages fool you, this book is very meaty and will take some time to digest. My son really enjoyed the section on ancient number systems. The chart on pages 24-25 compares Babylonian, Hebrew, Roman, Mayan, Hindu, and others. Readers can also learn about the golden ratio and phi, prime numbers, Pascal's triangle, buckyballs, and much, much more. There are nearly 100 pages of information here, geared toward middle school and up.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2006
I found this book incredibly interesting, and I'm no maths fan - I leafed through it while babysitting for a friend who has a son of 9, then I bought the book for myself! It is so well written and extremely funny in parts. I would recommend this book to anyone of any age. I guarantee you will learn something new.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2005
Go Figure! A Totally Cool Book About Numbers is a book specifically designed to show young readers that the science of math and numbers can be cool, fun, and crucial to understanding the universe's secrets. Each two-page spread teaches the reader about fascinating numerological concepts in plain and simple terms, from brain-twisting logic puzzles (a TV game show host has you pick from three garage doors, each with a car behind it. After you pick one, he knowingly reveals that one of the doors you didn't pick is empty. Should you switch your choice?) to the amazing shapes of fractals to the fascinating properties of the "golden ratio" phi and much more. Illustrated throughout with full-color diagrams and photographs, Go Figure! takes an adventurous approach to stimulating young minds and exploring mathematical mysteries. Very highly recommended for both elementary school and homeschooling science studies reading lists.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Here's a rare find: A lively, colorful, intellectual book about math for kids (or indeed anyone who can do basic arithmetic).

Author Johnny Ball begins at the beginning, with a review of the many ways that different cultures reckon numbers. Base ten? How about base 20 (in cultures where people count on their fingers AND toes)?

Kids also get to see how different systems for writing numbers--from Egypt to Rome to India to the Mayan empire--developed. And Ball presents all sorts of intriguing topics, including pi, magic squares, primes, geometry, topology, logic, and fractals.

The book is bursting with helpful illustrations and peppered with questions, thought problems, cool math shortcuts, and activities. For example, the reader learns how to prove that a triangle's angles add up to 180 degrees (by drawing a triangle on paper, tearing out each corner, and then fitting them together along a straight line).

Negatives? The explanations aren't always satisfying, as when Ball explains why numbers from the Fibonacci sequence (i.e.,...5, 8, 13, 21, 35...) turn up in nature so often. ("...they provide the best way for packing seeds, petals, or leaves in a limited space without large gaps or awkward overlaps.")

But I don't really see this as a shortcoming. The book is designed to be a brief introduction, and Ball's presentation should inspire the curious reader to track down more information.

My more important complaints:

(1) Some of the "brain teasers" are really just smart aleck riddles about how we interpret everyday speech--e.g., "How many birthdays does the average man have?" (Answer: One) or "How is it possible to push a large doughnut through a cup handle?" (Answer: Poke your finger through the handle and give it a push!") "Solving" such riddles depends on ambiguities of language, not logic or math. It's a bit jarring (and perhaps even confusing) to mix these with real math puzzles.

(2) Some of the instructions for the brain teasers are vague and this might frustrate kids and/or make them conclude that they don't "get" math. Example: Kids are given a map and asked how many routes are possible between two points. But the "correct" answer seems to assume that we're talking about efficient routes only--not every conceivable route.

These aren't huge problems, and it's likely that the more sophisticated, confident reader can cope with them. But I think it's important to be aware of them so you can reassure and help your child if she gets stuck or confused. Kids should also know that some of the puzzles are just darned tough. And at least one of them involves algebra ("Among the camels and ostriches there are 60 eyes and 86 feet. How many of each kind of animal are there?")

The disclaimers aside, this is an outstanding, unusual, fun, book that stimulates curiosity and "math play." It's the sort of book that could change lives--steering smart kids into the "math track" and the career options that go with it. Thank you, Johnny Ball!

- Parenting Science
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2006
This is a truly awesome book, full of fascinating insights, entertaining all the way through and amazingly wide in scope, ranging from school math to jokes, puzzles, games and high-level topics like chaos. Note that the "mistake" mentioned in the first editorial review is not really a mistake but an old joke: How many animals of each sex did Moses take on the Ark? The answer of course is "none - it was Noah who built the Ark!"
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2008
This book really is cool and worth the money. I ordered through Scholastic and paid a little bit less. My intent was to be able to teach my 8-year-old, 3rd grade daughter some cool principles, tricks, games for math so she could improve. She's (surprisingly, right) not interested in the book really. I think she's just a little bit too young for it. But I loved the book. When we work over the summer, I will do a little bit at a time with her: Prime Numbers lesson, history of number systems, etc. Little chunks should help improve her understanding and I think ALL kids should be exposed to the lessons in this book early.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2009
Got this for my daughter, age 9, who thinks she hates math. She loves this book! Bright, colorful, full of great pictures, wacky facts, and fun puzzles, this book is great for any age. Highly recommended!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2008
It doesn't matter how old you are, if you were interested enough in mathematical books to click this review you should buy this book. My PhD engineer liked it, and so did my fifth graders.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2012
I wish this book had existed when I was a kid. This is actually entertainment. It covers so many fun facts / types of math in an engaging way. Our 8 yr old son took it to classes to show his friends, read it in the car, and even slept with it. It's filled with images and examples and fun tidbits. It introduced him to many new math areas and now he sounds like a little genius (as in "Hey Mom, do you know the difference between pi and phi?"). This is a must have reference book. He will be going back to it for years to come.
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