cover image Fun with Numbers

Fun with Numbers

Massin. Creative Editions, $24.3 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-15-200962-5

The French graphic artist Massin and a trio of illustrators take a selective, somewhat arbitrary look at how various civilizations have worked with numbers. In sprightly, conversational tones, Massin explains how some peoples used pictures to represent numbers: for example, in ancient Egypt, the symbol for 1,000,000 was a ""man with his arms flung up, as if expressing astonishment at such a large number."" Also included are anecdotes tracing our method of counting minutes and seconds to the Sumerian practice of basing sets on multiples of 60; crediting zeroes to the mathematicians of China and India (others left an empty space to keep track of missing units); and showing how Arabic numbers came to replace Roman numerals. In a low-key palette of rusts, charcoals and sepias, whimsical illustrations introduce a parade of people and animals fashioned out of numbers. The information here doesn't add up to a comprehensive history, but many passages make for prime reading. All ages. (Sept.)