Given that 14 billion years have elapsed since the birth of the Universe and that the cosmos contains a mind-boggling 1024 stars, can Earth really be the only planet in the entire Universe to contain life?
I suspect maths in primary school would be greeted with far more enthusiasm if students had Ian Stewart as a teacher. Any man who can explain electromagnetism, gravity and atomic nuclear forces in terms of a piggy fridge magnet and a smashed kitchen plate is, surely, a communicator to be reckoned with.
Longitude was first published in 1996, occupying a substantial portion of many a Waterstones table around Christmas-time. The book has endorsements from Patrick O'Brien and Neil Armstrong, and a blurb that cheerfully describes the search for longitude as a "true-life thriller".
With this collection of letters Ian Stewart, accomplished mathematician, science writer, and even science fiction writer, accompanies a young and imaginary student on her path to becoming a professional mathematician. The letters address the questions that arise naturally at the crucial points in "Meg's" career, from leaving school and pondering whether to take a maths degree, through to becoming a fully established mathematician wondering how to juggle teaching and research.