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Alex Bellos's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Alex Bellos recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Alex Bellos's favorite book recommendations of all time.

'The Triumph of Numbers' explores how numbers have come to assume a leading role in science, in the operations and structure of government, in the analysis of society, in marketing and in many other aspects of daily life. less
Recommended by Alex Bellos, and 1 others.

Alex BellosOK, so this is The Triumph of Numbers by IB Cohen, who is a scholar, an eminent historian of science and he has written many academic books. But this one – very short – was only published after he died. Again, the difficulty in maths writing is often that the mathematicians don’t know how to write and the non-mathematicians don’t really get the maths. But Cohen is an amazing historian, so... (Source)

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A History of π

The history of pi, says the author, though a small part of the history of mathematics, is nevertheless a mirror of the history of man. Petr Beckmann holds up this mirror, giving the background of the times when pi made progress -- and also when it did not, because science was being stifled by militarism or religious fanaticism. less
Recommended by Alex Bellos, and 1 others.

Alex BellosPetr Beckmann was a Czech electrical engineer who lived in Czechoslovakia until he was 39 in 1963, when he went to America as a visiting professor and just stayed there. (Source)

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The Babylonians invented it, the Greeks banned it, the Hindus worshipped it, and the Church used it to fend off heretics. For centuries, the power of zero savored of the demonic; once harnessed, it became the most important tool in mathematics. Zero follows this number from its birth as an Eastern philosophical concept to its struggle for acceptance in Europe and its apotheosis as the mystery of the black hole. Today, zero lies at the heart of one of the biggest scientific controversies of all time, the quest for the theory of everything. Elegant, witty, and enlightening, Zero... more
Recommended by Alex Bellos, Bryan Johnson, and 2 others.

Alex BellosUnlike Ifrah, Charles Seife is a brilliant popular science writer who has here written the ‘biography’ of zero. And even though he doesn’t talk that much about India, it works well as a handbook to Ifrah’s sections on India. Because Seife talks about how zero is mathematically very close to the idea of infinity, which is another mathematical idea that the Indians thought about differently. Seife... (Source)

Bryan JohnsonChronicles how hard it was for humanity to come up with and hold onto the concept of zero. No zero, no math. No zero, no engineering. No zero, no modern world as we know it... (Source)

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A history of numbers, from Cro-Magnon Man to the electronic spreadsheet, taking in Scandinavia, China and the Classical World. The text is aided by explanatory figures and tables. less
Recommended by Alex Bellos, and 1 others.

Alex BellosMy next book is by Georges Ifrah, who you could say is the real ‘man who counted’. The French have what is probably the best tradition of popular maths in the world: they love their science, their maths, their engineering and philosophy. And from 1650 to 1850 probably the largest percentage of the great mathematicians were French: Pascal, Fermat, Laplace, Lagrange and the rest. (Source)

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The Man Who Counted

A Collection of Mathematical Adventures

Malba Tahan is the creation of a celebrated Brazilian mathematician who was looking for a way to bring some of the mysteries and delights of mathematics to a wider public. He turned out to be a born storyteller.

The adventures of Beremiz Samir, The Man Who Counted, take the reader on an exotic journey in which, time and again, he summons his extraordinary mathematical powers to settle disputes, give wise advice, overcome dangerous enemies, and win for himself fame and fortune. as we accompany him, we learn much of the history of famous mathematicisns who preceded...
Recommended by Alex Bellos, and 1 others.

Alex BellosThe author Malba Tahan is a fictional character, the pen name of Júlio César de Mello e Sousa, and the book is set in Arabia as a mixture of One Thousand and One Nights and a maths book – it’s coming out of the most populous Catholic country in the world and yet it’s as much a love story to Arab culture as to maths itself. There were lots of Arab immigrants in Brazil and they love Arab culture –... (Source)

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