Numbers: The Universal Language

by Denis Guedj

ISBN: 0810928450

This book isn’t meant to be a deep scholarly text. It is set up more in the manner of those Freud for Beginners types of books (though not part of that series.)

Using copious illustrations and sidebar notes, this book explains the basic ideas in the history of numbers. It looks at how numbers came to be, how they have been and are used, the invention of zero, of algebra, and touches on the use of mathematical principles in other disciplines such as music, psychology, and art.

I have never been a “math person” and have never had a particular fondness for numbers, so I picked up this book because it looked interesting, and accessible enough to a non-math-geek to be worth reading.

I found myself marvelling over a clear description of how algebra came about and what it is used for (not to mention briefly lamenting that no one could have given me a decent explanation when I was in junior high and could really have used one.) I was also interested in the idea of the golden number, and I may even do some more digging around about that. Also interesting were different decimal patterns and musical correspondences.

This book turned out to be a fairly entertaining primer in numeracy and a decent reference for the non-mathematician. It includes in index, a chronology, a glossary, and suggestions for further reading should a reader want to go deeper.

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