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

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

Daniel Tammet. Little, Brown, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-316-18737-4

An autistic savant shares his insights on mathematics and life in this far-ranging collection of entertaining and thoughtful essays. Tammet’s (Born on a Blue Day) interests are intriguing and stunning in their diversity—one moment he’s considering the existence of extraterrestrial life and breaking down astronomer Frank Drake’s famous equation for calculating the number of intelligent civilizations in the universe; the next, he’s exploring Shakespeare’s fascination with “the presence of absence” and the ways in which nothing can reveal far more than something. The essay “Snowman,” one of the book’s best, is a poetic meditation on snowflakes and what they reveal about complexity. Tammet is a master of gleaning profound insights from seemingly mundane trivia, whether he’s considering the polydactylism of Anne Boleyn, the numberless Kpelle tribe of Liberia, Plato’s insistence that the ideal city be limited to exactly 5040 landholding families, or the mathematics of mortality rates. This is a delightful book, well-suited to random sampling, and capable of bringing even the most numerophobic readers into agreement with Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos: “I know numbers are beautiful. If they are not beautiful, nothing is.” Tammet’s paean to numbers is proof that Erdos was right. Agent: Andrew Lownie, Andrew Lownie Literary Agency (U.K.). (July 30)