Thinking in Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math

An autistic savant who has set a European record for the most publicly recited digits of pi (22,514), Daniel Tammet sees numbers a bit differently than most people do. In the essays in Thinking in Numbers, he explores math as it relates to family relationships, snowflakes, chess and a host of other topics. From Shakespeare learning the concept of zero to the unknowable poetry of prime numbers, Tammet juxtaposes math and life in startling and often entertaining ways.

Tammet, the oldest of nine children, begins by musing on the many possible combinations (sets) of himself and his siblings. In "A Model Mother," he further relates math to family by drawing distinctions between our perceptions of other people and the reality of their true selves. Touching on subjects from history (Anne Boleyn's 11 fingers) to language ("Counting to Four in Icelandic"), literature ("A Novelist's Calculus") and Japanese proverbs, Tammet waxes philosophical as he considers the effects of numbers on our lives and how ultimately we fail to grasp their quantity, their beauty or all their other characteristics--much as we do with other people.

Since Tammet has a deep knowledge of mathematics, his writing occasionally grows too abstract for those who have not studied higher math. But most of these essays provide a smart, engaging, accessible guide to the intersection of mathematics, philosophy and the numerous (and numerical) worlds in which we live. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

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