Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Curiouser and Curiouser

The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Mathematics, David Wells

Many people dont see the beauty and excitement of maths, often because they werent introduced to it in the right way as children. This book can introduce adults and children alike to it in the right way. It starts with -1 and i (the square root of -1) and goes all the way through to Grahams Number, which is so big that you could drive yourself mad trying to grasp just a fraction of it. En route, it introduces topics and ideas suitable for everyone from absolute beginners to the most advanced mathematicians. That is one of the beauties of maths: someone once described as it like an ocean in which a child can paddle and an elephant can swim. Wells discusses odd numbers, even numbers, rational numbers, irrational numbers, transcendental numbers, primes, Mersenne primes, factorials, logarithms, magic squares, Pascals triangle, the Rhind Papyrus (1650 BC), and much, much more, seasoning it all with a sprinkling of folklore and numerology and lots of ideas for recreational maths and musing. The Fibonacci numbers get a little of the attention they deserve (a book ten or a hundred times longer could only give them a little of the attention they deserve) and theres also the solution to the problem of the largest number you can represent using only three digits and no other symbols. If you know what it is or not, read this book.

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