Customer Reviews: Here's Looking at Euclid: From Counting Ants to Games of Chance - An Awe-Inspiring Journey Through the World of Numbers
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Showing 1-10 of 59 reviews(5 star). Show all reviews
on July 10, 2010
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. Since I compared this author with the Maestro Martin Garder, let me close with the author's account of his meeting with Gardner: "I found his home in an assisted-living center next to a fast food joint... Gardner opened the door and invited me in. On the wall was a portrait of him made out of dominoes, a large photograph of Einstein and an Escher original... Gardner's preferred subject is magic... At first I had felt a little let down that Gardner was not a mathemetician, but as I left the assisted-living center it struck me that it was brilliantly in the spirit of recreational math that the man who now personifies it was only ever an enthusiastic amateur."

Alex Bellows, your great book earns you the right to be favorably compared to Gardner. May you be as prolific as Martin and keep amazing me for decades to come.
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on June 22, 2010
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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on July 23, 2010
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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on March 29, 2011
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 writer, who just happens also to be a gifted mathematician; the perfect left/right-brained combination to make something like this work.

The book is ordered into twelve chapters (numbered 0-11; Chapter Zero is, fittingly, about the concept of zero and how it's invention changed the world). Each chapter can be read individually, which, as Bellos says, means you can skip any chapters that you find boring... but I can pretty much guarantee that won't happen. For a book about numbers, the content is largely narrative, as opposed to being arranged in lists, tables, and other mathematical ways. The author uses his skills as a journalist to track down some remarkable people from all parts of the world, and engages readers in their fascinating stories.

The "World of Math" truly is astonishing. From ancient philosophy and counting monkeys to sudoku puzzles and how to beat the odds in the casino, my mind was consistently blown on every page (but in a good way!) If I start listing individual facts that amazed me, I wouldn't be able to stop, so you're going to just have to read this book for yourself.

You don't have to know advanced math to enjoy this book. Honestly, you probably don't need to know much at all about math, or be particularly good at it. Bellos never assumes too much about his audience. You merely need to love a good story, and be prepared to be thoroughly entertained.

P.S. -- This book has opened my eyes to an entire genre that I never knew existed: "Recreational Math Books". I'll definitely be returning to this well!
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on August 8, 2010
This is a fun book to read. I am a math teacher and plan on using some of this information in my math classes. Would definitely recommend this book to other teachers.
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on August 1, 2013
I am no mathematician but I like some of the mind blowing things in normal life that can be understood by studying numbers.

The fact that if you get more than 23 people in a room, there is a more than 50% chance that 2 of them will have the same birthday or why Apple had to make the shuffle less random because real random feels like you hear the same songs again and again.

The book is full of wonderful facts. it is written in an easily understandable way and even when there is some concept to look at, you do not have to even think about it, never mind understand it to appreciate the points being made.

Some of the things about shapes, patterns and number sequences and how it affects us are jaw dropping. If you have any sort of puzzle solving yearn in you then there is a lot in this book you will like.
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on November 9, 2015
I loved the book, but the Kindle edition is almost unreadable. After talking to Amazon Customer Service I emailed the books author, Alex Bellos, the following:

"I have enjoyed “Here’s Looking at Euclid" so much, but the Kindle version was a big disappointment. Formatting of fractions, symbols, and some images make parts of the book unreadable. I wish I had invested in a hard cover edition instead of the Kindle edition. Hopefully you can influence your publisher to fix the problems with the Kindle version. Amazon said they will send updated versions of Kindle books when updates become available."

Here is what the author Alex Bellos said:

"Thanks John for your kind words about the book. Unfortunately there is nothing that can be done about the Kindle version - Amazon is only interested in converting books as cheaply as possible, and for years we have been complaining about their kindle conversions. The only solution is to persuade Jeff Bezos….or buy the hard copy!

Some good news though. Amazon said they would refund me for the Kindle version of the book. I have ordered a paper back version for about the same price as the Kindle version. I also ordered a hard copy of his book "The Grapes of Math". I love reading on my Kindle, but plan to avoid Kindle versions of books with maps, images, symbols, etc.
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on June 10, 2015
My husband enjoyed this book so much that we bought two more copies to give as gifts last Christmas. Excellent writing style, very understandable. He has since read other books by this author and all are a good read - a "thinking" read.
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on August 22, 2010
There isn't a math gene in my body, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I intially got it from the library to see if it would be a good birthday present for my daughter-in-law and was rather fascinated myself. Needless to say, I ordered it for her birthday.
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on July 14, 2010
I have been teaching mathematics for many decades now and am always interested in new material for my high school AND college classes. I must admit, this book was originally purchased because of the wonderful (punny) title ... However, once I sat down to read the first chapter, I was hooked. Besides current research on how children learn numbers, there are stories about pi, phi, fractals, and other topics from the author's unique point of view. This is one mathematics book that will draw the reader in...becoming more and more facsinating as the chapters enfold. An appreciated armchair journey. Enjoy!
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