- Articles by Helen Joyce
The topic of this book - the Banach-Tarski Paradox - is a result so strange and counterintuitive that the author says he didn't believe it when he first saw it. The "paradox" - in fact an impeccable mathematical theorem - says that a small sphere, for example a pea, can be cut into as few as five pieces which can then be reassembled so as to make a far bigger sphere, for example the sun.
The author of this book is Statistics Editor of the Financial Times, the only newspaper in Britain to employ someone with this job title. He is therefore uniquely well placed to write this fascinating and timely book, which sets out to provide a fact-based picture of the society we live in.
This book is a curious mixture of biography, history and mathematics, all neatly packaged into an entertaining and enlightening read. In essence it is a biography of the brilliant and eccentric mathematician, John von Neumann, who began life, much like many of the other great mathematicians, by being able to do basic arithmatic before other children could speak and with an ability to calculate exceptionally well before he even went to school.
This charming book is in its second edition (the first was published in 1994). It is about integers, with a short section for each number between 1 and 200, and a line for each between 201 and 999. There are "boxes" for interesting facts and definitions, such as "perfect number", and a few "large numbers" also make the cut, including 1729, the subject of a famous anecdote about Hardy and Ramanujan, and 101000, the googol.