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A Fascinating, Wide-Ranging Book That Will Delight a Vast Audience
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.