A Surprising Excursion Through the Astonishing World of Math" by Alex Bellos is a book I would never in a million years have picked up, unless my husband had brought it home in hopes I might be tempted. Let me explain. You see, I suffer from a condition known as "dyscalculia", which neuroscientists have identified in the brain using MRIs. Most of us are familiar with dyslexia, but until I read Bellos's book, I had never heard of dyscalculia. I feel as if a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. My entire life--at least since third grade, when my parents were summoned to a conference with my teacher for the first time--I have had math "issues." Not to put too fine a point on it, I am lousy at math. Embarrassingly so. That's why I am delighted to learn that I am neither stupid nor lazy; I am simply wired differently, and I can't do anything about that.
"Here's Looking at Euclid" is a marvelous book, filled with fascinating facts and figures presented in a lively, engaging style. Bellos brings the great mathematicians, known and not so well-known, to life on the page, leads the reader through a history of numbers, and provides explanations of math that show it to be exciting as well as challenging. I couldn't follow all of it, but I certainly got the jist and I now have a much greater understanding and appreciation of what mathematicians do. I didn't know, for example, that zero was invented in India and changed mathematics forever. I learned that there are other ways to do multiplication than the way I was taught in school--easier ways at that. I discovered that Fibonacci numbers occur everywhere in nature, from the chambered nautilus to the petals on a flower.
I am a literary person, and when I read something like "Anna Karenina" or the short stories of William Trevor, I am made aware of what is most profound in human life. When I read "Euclid", I am struck my how magical the universe is.