Here's Looking at Euclid: A Surprising Excursion through the Astonishing World of Math

~by Alex Bellos

A few months before Alex Bellos' Here's Looking at Euclid: A Surprising Excursion through the Astonishing World of Math was published in the United States the book was released in the United Kingdom, with great success, under the title of Alex's Adventures in Numberland: Dispatches from the Wonderful World of Mathematics. Of the two the American title is perhaps the most groan-inducing, which is probably why I prefer it. I'm one of those people who actually like math. It's true, we're out there. Despite that fact, I actually haven't taken a single math course since graduating high school unless you want to count some complicated music theory. So, I was very interested when a copy of Here's Looking at Euclid was offered to me for review.

Here's Looking at Euclid has twelve chapters, appropriately numbered from zero to eleven. Each chapter can more or less stand alone although there is an occasional cross-reference. Bellos vaguely follows the history of mathematics as an outline for his book but instead of an in-depth examination he only explores the highlights and interesting stories and people involved. It's somewhat difficult to determine what topics are actually covered in Here's Looking at Euclid by looking at the table of contents and chapter titles but the very useful index helps with that to a large extent. Broadly speaking, the chapters cover ethnomathematics, human cognition, geometry, pi, algebra, recreational mathematics, infinity, the Golden Ratio, randomness, statistics, and current advances in mathematics. However there are any number of other interesting and amusing things mentioned in passing.

Bellos makes a point of using practical applications and real life examples while explaining mathematical concepts rather than strictly relying on theory. There are far fewer equations than you might expect to see in a book about math. There are, however, plenty of figures, graphs, and illustrations to accompany the text and aid in explanations. While Bellos does an excellent job of introducing concepts, prior knowledge of basic geometry, algebra, and probability is useful but not necessary. Here's Looking at Euclid is definitely not meant to be a math primer and to be fair readers probably won't pick up the book unless they already have at least a passing interest in mathematics.

Here's Looking at Euclid is a very approachable and fun look at the world of mathematics. Bellos' writing is clear and his stories are amusing and interesting. Before becoming a journalist for the Guardian newspaper, he was a graduate of Oxford University in both math and philosophy so he knows something about the subject. It seems fitting that he would write a book about it. While preparing to write Here's Looking at Euclid Bellos traveled to places all over the world to conduct research and interviews including Japan, India, Germany, and the United States, among others. I only have one major complaint about Here's Looking at Euclid and that is that the chapter notes, appendices, and the glossary were all published online instead of being included in the book. I have no idea why this is the case because they really aren't all that long. This was extraordinarily frustrating for me since most of my reading is done away from a computer. However, other than that, I really did enjoy Here's Looking at Euclid.

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