cover image The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure

Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Henry Holt & Company, $30 (262pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-5770-6

Exceptionally handsome four-color illustrations and vignettes deepen the magic of this mathematically minded fantasy, Enzensberger's (Europe, Europe) first book for children. Robert is plagued by bad dreams until a mysterious creature called the Number Devil appears to him one night. Robert, who hates everything to do with numbers, thinks it just another nightmare, but, surprisingly, finds himself fascinated by the intricacies of mathematics as taught by the exacting but always enthusiastic Devil. In a series of 12 dreams, Robert (and the reader) are introduced to ever more complex theories, from different kinds of infinity to triangular numbers. In Number Hell/Number Heaven, Robert and the Devil meet famous mathematicians of the past and Robert is inducted into the ranks of number apprentices. Surreal touches (numbers flying in the air, floating in a swimming pool), fanciful names for mathematical terms (prima-donna numbers for prime numbers) and problems posed directly to the reader contribute to the playful tone. The generous and strategic use of color, however, provides the biggest boost: even mathematical equations look festive here, hand-printed in warm muted tones. Berner's witty spot and full-page illustrations also work to clarify mathematical principles. Many readers, unused to a novel of ideas, may well be daunted by the string of mathematical concepts, particularly because the reasoning behind several of the ""tricks"" demonstrated by the Devil is only glancingly addressed. But for certain kinds of readers--chess players, puzzle enthusiasts--this will be a favorite. Ages 11-up. (Oct.)