Plus Blog

December 11, 2014
If you've ever redecorated a bathroom, you'll know that there are only so many ways in which you can tile a flat plane. But once you move into the curved world of hyperbolic geometry, possibilities become endless and the most amazing fractal structures ensue. Beautiful images such as these form the heart Indra's pearls: the vision of Felix Klein by Caroline Series, David Wright and David Mumford.

Image by David Wright

For a feel of the book read our short introduction to the maths behind their beautiful images. In the book itself, as well as pages of stunning images, you'll find instructions for how to create the images yourself, as well as detailed explanation of the mathematics involved. One of the most compelling ideas is the way these contained images can represent the infinite. In many eastern philosophies, especially Buddhist, this idea of the infinite appearing from copies within copies is pervasive: "In a single atom, great and small lands, as many as atoms." This concept was so exactly reflected in the mathematics of their pictures that it inspired the title of the book, taken from the ancient Buddhist myth of Indra's Web:

In the heaven of the great god Indra is said to be a vast and shimmering net, finer than a spider's web, stretching to the outermost reaches of space. Strung at each intersection of its diaphanous threads is a reflecting pearl. Since the net is infinite in extent, the pearls are infinite in number. In the glistening surface of each pearl are reflected all the other pearls, even those in the furthest corners of the heavens. In each reflection, again are reflected all the infinitely many other pearls, so that by this process, reflections of reflections continue without end.

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December 10, 2014

Book cover

Why do diamonds sparkle? Why is the shower the best place to sing? Where is the 4th dimension in Dali's paintings? If you don't know the answers to these questions, or perhaps didn't even know you didn't know these interesting facts, then John D. Barrow's book will help. Its title, 100 essential things you didn't know you didn't know about maths and the arts, explains what's in it and you can a taster for Barrow's writing in this Plus article. You can be sure it's good though, after all this is Barrow's 22nd book!

If you like your science and maths visual, then we also recommend Barrow's book Cosmic imagery, which explores some key images in the history of science (find out more in our visual podcast). If, on the other hand, you like your arts and crafts to be mathematical, then check out Crafting by concepts and Origami polyhedra design.

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December 9, 2014

If you've got maths friends then you might have noticed that a large subset of them are also Simpsons fans. And there's a good reason for that: as Simon Singh's book The Simpsons and their mathematical secrets explains, a large number of Simpsons writers are mathematicians. The book explores the maths that has been hidden (and not so hidden) throughout the series and will make a great present for maths/Simpsons nerds.

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December 8, 2014

In June this year five mathematicians turned into millionaires when they were awarded the Breakthrough Prize set up by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner. Simon Donaldson, Maxim Kontsevich, Jacob Lurie, Terry Tao and Richard Taylor each received £1.8m. That's more than the £930,000 that's awarded for the Nobel prize and should make up for the fact neither of the five is likely to ever to receive a Nobel: there isn't one for mathematics.

Back in November the five winners gave a lectures at the Breakthrough Prize Symposium, which have been filmed for you to watch. We especially recommend Terence Tao's talk on collaboration in maths (mathematicians seem to be getting more sociable):

Richard Taylor's talk about some beautiful number theory (does get a little technical later but starts very accessibly):

And Jacob Lurie's talk on analogy and abstractions in maths, involving some impossible shapes:

Simon Donaldson and Maxim Kontsevich's talks are a little more technical, but still worth a look if you're a bit more advanced in maths. Just click on the links!

December 8, 2014

Time travel anyone? Human-eating aliens? Exploding Suns? If that sounds good to you, then Keith Mansfield's series of three Johnny Mackintosh books is what you need. And it doesn't matter how old you are. The hero of the books is thirteen-year-old Johnny Mackintosh, who is busy with football and school work when he picks up signals from extraterrestrials and is catapulted into an adventure that culminates in a mission to save the Earth. Which means that those books are great for anyone aged from about 10 upwards with a taste for adventure and sic-fi — and an interest in mind-bending concepts from real science, which are woven into the plot from the start.

book cover

Maths and science related books for children that are fun as well us instructive are rare, so we'd like to mention another couple that have gone down very well with our own offspring. Richard Schwartz's Really big numbers and You can count on monsters are beautifully illustrated books that give kids from around 6 to 8 and intuitive understanding of our number system and prime numbers (respectively). So there's no excuse not to give some maths to your younger friends and family this Christmas!

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December 7, 2014

What's your favourite number? If it's 7 then you're not alone. Alex Bellos, one of our favourite maths authors, conducted a survey this year to find the world's favourite number. After polling more than 30,000 people from around the world, he found that the winner was ... 7!

To find out more about the poll, see or read Alex's book Alex through the looking glass. We also highly recommend Alex's adventures in number land.

Happy reading!

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