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Number Freak by Derrick Niederman

01/02/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Number Freak in the USA - or Buy Number Freak in the UK

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pub: Duckworth Overlook. 284 page hardback. Price: 12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7156-3710-4.

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The sub-title of 'Number Freak' is 'a Mathematical Compendium From 1 To 200' which actually sums up what this book is about. Interestingly, the last hundred numbers seems more like an abridged appendix compared to the wealth of information about the first hundred. Is there any significance in that?

The reason I pursued this book when I was given the Duckworth catalogue was because if you're a story writer than information is everything. Unusual source material can also give unusual ideas. As I commented in January's editorial, numbers play an important place in our lives so some knowledge beyond the date has to be handy.

There is material in this book for everyone and you do come away knowing a lot more than when you started. If you're a maths geek then a lot of the information is going to be familiar to you. A lot of it is maths games that such people play with the various significances involved with prime numbers and factorials. If your children are maths inclined then they are going to look like whizzes doing some of the demonstrations involved here. There's also a lot of factual info about their relevance in anything from orchestras to sports, both in America and the UK, although not as far as explaining why league and union rugby have different numbers of players.

I suspect that if you can sit down and read it all once, then the next time you'll browse out bits to read again or even try out. Author Derrick Niederman does give you problems to solve with some numbers and gives the answers at the back.

This is not to say he's totally perfect. Niederman might be good at maths but not James Bond as he thinks 'Thunderball' is an anthology not 'For Your Eyes Only' but one he got right with 'Octopussy'. If that's the only mistake he made then at least you can appear to be smart by knowing you can get one right that he didn't.

I do think it might have been handy to have a page header with the number on it although the figures are large enough to see on main page so that's really not an issue. What would have been extremely useful is a glossary at the back as a collective reminder of just what things like Fibonacci sequences and vampire numbers are all about and even the numbers that they are connected to. Although there are explanations with each number, if you had to flick through to find examples quickly, well, it wouldn't be that quick.

This is an impressive little book that will ensure you give numbers respect and how they play such an important part of our lives. Also, don't forget, the cover price is a penny short of unlucky thirteen.

GF Willmetts
January 2010

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