Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Here's Looking at Euclid:

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. 

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