cover image The Grapes of Math: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life

The Grapes of Math: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life

Alex Bellos. Simon & Schuster, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4516-4009-0

Channeling the spirit of Martin Gardner, the Guardian's math blogger Bellos (Here's Looking at Euclid) reveals%E2%80%94and revels in%E2%80%94the pleasures of mathematics, which he has dubbed "the most playful of all intellectual disciplines." Numbers are so basic to our lives that we've even given them personalities, Bellos says. Even numbers seem female, odd numbers male, and across cultures we're fascinated by numbers that end in 1%E2%80%94just think of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Levi's 501 jeans, or Kentucky Fried Chicken's 11 herbs and spices. Bello, a natural storyteller, moves smoothly from simple topics to those more complex. The tale of the ill-fated elliptical pool table leads to the shared secret of theater spotlights and the shape of planetary orbits. From there, we explore exponential growth and compound interest, the magic of imaginary numbers, and self-reproducing fractals. Along the way, Bello introduces fascinating characters, from the retired cabdriver in Tucson whose hobby is factoring prime numbers, to swashbuckling astronomer Tycho Brahe, who lost his nose in a duel over a math formula. Through intriguing characters, lively prose, and thoroughly accessible mathematics, Bellos deftly shows readers why math is so important, and why it can be so much fun. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (June)