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Here's Looking at Euclid: A Surprising Excursion Through the Astonishing World of Math Hardcover – June 15, 2010

75 customer reviews

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Hardcover, June 15, 2010
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Editorial Reviews Review

At last, a math book for people who think they don't like math. Alex Bellos's self-proclaimed "Surprising Excursion Through the Astonishing World of Math" delivers on its promise. You'll meet the numerologist who persuaded Puff Daddy to change his name, a Romanian probability theorist who parlayed his know-how into enough lotteries wins to fund an early retirement in the South Pacific, and the nine-year-old Japanese prodigy who can play a speed-game in which two players quickly alternate saying a word that begins with the last word's last syllable while simultaneously summing 30 three-digits numbers--in 20 seconds! You'll learn about tangrams, piems, hyperbolic crochet, nature's ubiquitous "golden ratio," the spooky dogma of the bell curve, why origami is on the bleeding edge of theoretical mathematics, how to make $250,000 in the search for ever-larger prime numbers, and how to gamble just a little bit less badly. We missed this book in 2010's "best of" lists, but it's never too late to have this much fun. --Jason Kirk

From Publishers Weekly

Unlike in a traditional classroom setting, Bellos's book aims to reintroduce readers into the world of math by wandering off the beaten algebraic path and investigating interesting topics. Bellos, a former international newspaper correspondent, jets off to exotic places to talk to people about mathematical concepts that catch his fancy. Readers learn the remarkable story of how Sudoku became an overnight international sensation only after its developer, a retired judge, worked for six years on a computer program to write the puzzles. In Japan he visits a club whose school-age members can almost instantaneously add up a string of three-digit numbers by visualizing an abacus in their heads. When in America, Bellos finds himself in Nevada, exploring Reno's casino scene with a discussion of why some gamblers win, but most don't. Adult math buffs will be familiar with most of Bellos's discoveries, but his enthusiasm and lively writing-along with helpful charts and graphics-should inspire younger readers to make their own journeys of mathematical exploration.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (June 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416588256
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416588252
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #266,207 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

77 of 80 people found the following review helpful By William Gronos on July 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I've read a lot of recreational math books and this one is superb. It's as good as those written by the greatest popular mathematics author of them all, Martin Gardner.

In the preface the author states, "I have included a fair bit of historical material...". The first chapter makes it seem that the book will be 90% historical background and information ancillary to math, but within a few chapters that is no longer the case.

Even with subjects that will be familiar to most math devotees, he adds many new interesting tidbits, e.g. if you remove all the terms of the harmonic series that contain the digit 9, the formerly infinite-summing series now sums to just under 23. "Remove all terms including ANY number and the thinned-out harmonic series is convergent." if you remove all the terms that contain the string of digits 314159, the series sums, amazingly!, to a little over 2.3 million.

And mixed in with all the interesting math bits, the author constantly adds interesting asides; Peter Roget of thesaurus fame invented the slide rule log-log scale, which enabled the calculation of square roots and fractional powers like 3^2.5.

There are five pages about sudoku puzzles. They discuss the puzzle's background and also its math; the minimum number of clues needed to produce a puzzle with a unique solution seems to be 17, because although a man named Gordon Royle has collected over 50,000 17-clue puzzles, there has never been a 16-clue puzzle and Royle has a gut feeling that none exist.

I could go on and on describing the many things I found extremely interesting in this book, but I'm too lazy to type them all out.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Travis Klempan on June 22, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read a condensed article that turned out to be the first chapter of this book - a book that has opened my eyes to the pure wonders and joys of mathematics. It would be easy to use over-the-top superlatives in describing my reaction not only to the book as a whole, but to each chapter. In this case, though, they would be deserved.

The writing and arrangement of the material is masterful - each chapter could stand alone as an essay of the first degree, and stories of travel, interviews, and history are seamlessly woven with surprising revelations about mathematics and humanity. In particular, the chapter on zero should be taught early and often, and the concepts used to illustrate infinity (and the different levels of infinity) made me gape in awe and fear. Sublime.

The one complaint (and a minor one) I have is the way it appeared on my Kindle. Granted, I don't own the large-screen version, but for a text that relies so heavily on numbers, formulae, and specialized symbols, the paragraphs often appeared distorted or cut off. Again, this is my only hang up regarding what is otherwise a classic.

Future reviews may say it, so I'd like to be the first: this book re-introduced me to mathematics and showed me the beauty of what is often a daunting subject. Would that more math teachers at all levels were able to communicate in the way Alex Bellos does. Well done!
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By George Poirier on July 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a book in which just about everyone should find something of interest, mainly because the author's topics are so wide-ranging. In the first chapters, he discusses how the brain works when solving mathematical problems. He then moves on to how primitive societies started counting and how mathematical concepts evolved. In subsequent chapters, the reader is treated to discussions on a variety of topics including: geometry, origami, number games (e.g., Sudoku), number theory, logarithms, devices used for calculating (abacus, slide rule, etc.), graphing, infinities, the golden mean, pi, probability (especially as applied to gambling), and statistics. In each case, the reader is introduced to some history, various related anecdotes as well as key people (some of whom the author has interviewed) who are currently involved in some of these topics. The author notes that the chapters can be read in any order, but suggests that the usual progression may be best.

Naturally, in a book that is so sweeping in its topics, a given reader may enjoy some chapters more than others; that certainly was my case. However, throughout, the writing style is lively, friendly, accessible, authoritative and quite engaging (depending, of course, on the reader's topics of preference).

I do believe that this book has something for everyone. Those who are math phobic may find clues as to why they are that way, i.e., how their brains may work when they are confronted with a math problem; maths buffs may find fascinating historical information as well current developments in some fields of mathematics that are less known to them. Gamblers may find information that could improve their odds at winning at certain games, or they could learn why they may lose more than they win. Those simply interested in math for its own sake will find plenty here to explore and enjoy.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Andy on August 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I heard the author being interviewed on national public radio and was intrigued by the title. My daughter is a math professor and my husband is an aeronautical engineer, but my knowledge of math is limited. I thought this book would be a fun way to learn some interesting facts about math and it didn't disappoint. For a person who is mathematically inclined, parts of it might be more easily understood and appreciated, but on a simpler level the book is also quite enjoyable. I would recommend it highly.
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