Asimov On Numbers – Isaac Asimov
Some of my very close and naughty friends keep throwing me these challenging books to read. The last I remembered that I struggled big time with were the Ayn Rand books (Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged) and I loved them totally, Although John Galt’s speech was something that I will never forget in my life (its quite challenging to read full) but I loved it so much that a line from the book became my permanent bumper sticker. So, a very dear friend like that sent me a couple of books of the same kind – specially the one that I am talking about right now is based on Numbers – Roman, Greek, Babylonian Mathematical numbers, written of-course by Isaac Asimov. He was a Russian American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University. He was known for his works of science fiction and popular science. Asimov was a prolific writer, and wrote or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards, Just imagine. Reading this book took me 25 years back in time to my mathematics classroom but it is written in such a way that I really wondered why our teachers couldn’t use the same technique of explaining the numbers the way he does as it made so much sense to me (a layman with no specific mathematical background), it is even interesting to read as an independent book if you have any interest in History of anything, specially the numbers and how the evolved in due course of time.
This is basically a collection of essays that he has written between 1959 to 1966, he himself keeps them editing them with correct footnotes. Asimov hasn’t only made it all look so simple to a layman in easy terms but even pointed out the mistakes done by primitive people in calculating and the price for the same that we pay today. Plus on top of that in between his theory and explanations he has written the briefs on different personalities of olden era as well the evolution of computer and other devices in between the chapters to make it more visual friendly with pictures and details. His comments on them are hilarious and so real time. He calls mathematics a “She” and when he is not able to solve a problem he calls her as if she is not interested in him :). Some of his findings are simple yet mind-blowing, I was shocked with my zero knowledge of the subject yet it was so simple to understand (his way). Mind-blowing is the way he decodes some hugest huge mathematical calculations and claims that he doesn’t wants to go insane by going further deeper in them as if he can, also the way he credits and dedicates a page on each of the great Mathematician that he mentions in his articles, that way enhancing the readers knowledge of some of the greatest from the field from the past. Superb Unbelievably Awesome.
The book had so many instances when I had to actually read the sentence twice or at times more then that to get it but what made it more interesting was that after sometime it started making a lot of sense, specially with real time examples like calculating the length of surface of earth in two different ways – the findings had a difference of 11 feet 🙂 how? it was hilarious but negligible in mathematical world. Some fractions with endless results were so much fun that I am actually going to use with my daughter now ie. 1/7 – if you solve it – you will get a damn good result – try it 🙂 and so many instances like that. I could never imagine Mathematics could be so interesting or can be told in such a nice understanding way – I wish our Mathematics teachers take a clue from books like these and make it this way – there will be no students going to Commerce or Arts classes in that case. It covers everything and anything on Planet earth with which he could make a numbered reference like the quantity of water on the planet, fresh water or salt, area of entire planet, population, density and what not. All in all it was a perfect read with so much thrown in mere 300 pages that I am inclined to read couple of more works. I guess he did write some books on Literary figures and on their writings too, guess that is going to make some real interesting readings.
This Book is highly recommended to all those with Engineering and Mathematical degrees who may or may not be using the good use of their degrees as of now 😉 – read this – you will love it.