- Reading level: 10 - 15 years
- Paperback: 264 pages
- Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (1 May 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805062998
- ISBN-13: 978-0805062991
- Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 1.3 x 23.5 cm
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #32,679 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure Paperback – 1 May 2000
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“Rare and glorious.” ―Michael Pakenham, Baltimore Sun
“Adults who know a little about math will find this book as enlightening as younger readers will.” ―Martin Gardner, Los Angeles Times
About the Author
Hans Magnus Enzensberger is the author of many highly lauded books, including Civil Wars: From L.A. to Bosnia. He lives in Munich.
Rotraut Susanne Berner is an illustrator who lives in Heidelberg.
Michael Henry Heim is a prize-winning translator who teaches at UCLA.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Enzensberger accurately illustrates the feelings that many young students possess about math. Children often do not understand the importance of math in our world. They become overwhelmed with increasingly complex numbers, causing confusion and discouraging them from pursuing more math. This book combats these attitudes and shows readers how exciting numbers can be, from Fibonacci numbers to primes, irrationals, transcendentals, Pascal’s Triangle, and more. Robert is a very relatable character, someone who makes comments that almost all of us have made about math at some point in our educational experience. Despite not always being the easiest to get along with, the number devil represents the importance of having someone to inspire students and challenge them with interesting problems.
As a student of math myself, I did not enjoy the number devil using different words to describe familiar mathematical concepts. Prime numbers are referred to as prima donnas, square roots as rutabagas, factorials as vrooms, and so on. In addition, the book misses a key opportunity to teach students about some of the greatest mathematicians the world has ever seen, such as Gauss, Bernoulli, Euler, Archimedes, Cantor, and Fibonacci. Instead, Enzensberger describes these pioneers in strange ways with different silly names, perhaps in an attempt to oversimplify the book. With that being said, a wide variety of mathematical topics are explored throughout the book, making it a fantastic choice for any age range. It is simple enough to be understood by the youngest readers, but still covers material that many college graduates may not even be familiar with. The book can either be used as a teaching tool, or as an outside read with the ability to display various applications of math. In my opinion, it works perfectly as the latter. With vibrant, colorful illustrations of number gardens, Fibonacci rabbits, never-ending numbers, Pascal’s Triangle, and Plantonic solids to help explain some of the more difficult topics, The Number Devil is sure to keep readers engaged.
I would highly recommend this book to parents or teachers that want to get their kids reading mathematical literature and interested in the marvelous world of numbers, although it is a fun, quick, and easy read for all. Probably ideal for young teenagers, but it can be just as enjoyable for adults with any level of prior math knowledge. The Number Devil excels as at being a fun fiction read, while also having the potential to teach and be a strong educational tool.
Enzenberger gives new names to most of the topics under discussion, in some cases shortening them ("bonacci" number rather than "fibonacci"), and in some cases lengthening them ("prima donna" numbers rather than "primes"). Famous mathematicians have their names translated into English, so Felix Klein becomes "Mr. Small". I'm not sure why he did this, it's not clear to me that it helps and, if the point is to encourage children to seek out more material elsewhere, I think it might hurt if they're asking about it with made-up names that appear nowhere else.
This book (and the game with the same title) presents such concepts as Fibonacci numbers, Pascal's triangle, natural numbers, infinite series, factorials, permutations, and other fun concepts in an interactive and engaging way.
I bought this book for my son, and we both reading it and learning (or reviewing, in my case!) a lot of these concepts. The only issue I had with this book (and the game) is that the authors make up some of their own terms instead of using the terms accepted by mathematicians.
There are not too many books or games that present math as fun and exciting, and this is one of them. If you have any interest in math (or would like to develop such interest in yourself or your kids), try it! You won't regret it.