Hans Magnus Enzensberger (Michael Henry Heim : Translator)- a book review

The Number Devil

Published by Granta Books, 2000 ISBN 1862 07828 9, 6 264 pages. Price approx £6.50 (Paperback)

I found this among the children's books, but it is much too good to be reserved for children only. The Number Devil comes to visit Robert each night in his dreams and illustrates the world of numbers in a most engaging way. He needs one thing and one thing only: one. Fractions are dealt with easily because one piece of chewing gum can be broken in two: one gum, two people – the gum goes on top, the people on the bottom - 1/1+1 He finds out that the Romans had no zero and is introduced to powers and place value through 'hopping numbers.' By the third night he has met numbers of the garden variety and the prima donnas too. Unreasonable numbers follow and coconuts help with triangle numbers. The entertainment continues with Fibonacci >numbers investigated through generations of rabbits and then there's the blanketyblank 1.618... . Enzensberger includes a useful list of "official" terms. He says this is ... just in case The Number Devil falls into the hands of mathematics teachers." It made me smile a lot, which I feel is a good recommendation for a book about maths!


Viv Brown