cover image The Big Bang of Numbers: How to Build the Universe Using Only Math

The Big Bang of Numbers: How to Build the Universe Using Only Math

Manil Suri. Norton, $32.50 (432p) ISBN 978-1-324-00703-6

Suri (The City of Devi), a novelist and math professor at the University of Maryland, takes on the challenge of developing mathematics from scratch in this high concept thought experiment. Suri divides his work into seven “days,” analogous to the seven days of creation in the Bible. Day one brings the invention of arithmetic, in which Suri shows how to “create” numbers, writing that they’re their own “independent entities.” In subsequent chapters, the newly created numbers play games to invent mathematical concepts such as geometry (which is day two), patterns (on day four), infinity (on day six), and on the final day, emergence, which is the “spontaneous generation of complexity” that “could plausibly create life itself.” Suri takes a jovial approach to his subject (there are, for example, side-notes to the Pope, who Suri writes would be his “most treasured potential reader”), and suggests that “the neat thing” about math is that it “can be enjoyed without needing any special mathematical knowledge or being a computation whiz.” Lay readers may have their doubts, though, as the author’s explanations sometimes confound (his breakdown of different sizes of infinity, for instance, can be a trip to parse). The math-minded, though, will enjoy Suri’s unique approach. (Sept.)