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Visions of Numberland - Alex Bellos and Edmund Harriss **

When someone flogs a concept to death financially it is sometimes described as 'milking it for all it's worth'. This isn't something I've ever come across in popular science before, but by producing a mathematical adult colouring book on his recurring (see what I did then?) 'numberland' theme, Alex Bellos has managed it.

I'll be honest, I'm not a fan of adult colouring books. It adds a whole new texture to 'dumbing down' that they are considered (and priced as) books at all. And I'm afraid this has not made me a convert.

I don't deny that it's possible for maths to be used as a brilliant starting point for art. No one who appreciates mathematics can fail to be impressed by Escher's work, for example. And to give Bellos his due, we do get a handful of lines of description for each mathematical structure that we are offered to colour in. Even so, and despite being provided with 60 patterns to colour (and '10 more that YOU create!' - oh, still my beating heart), it does seem a bit of a rip off to price this like a book that actually took someone time to write - it costs nearly £10.

Can I find something good to say? The shapes by mathematical artist Edmund Harriss are delightfully constructed, especially when they move away from the simply geometric with something like the Hopf vibration. And just occasionally Bellos does give us a bit more detail, for example in the Thue-Morse sequence where we get almost half a page of text. But there could have been so much more.

As you might have gathered, this very much isn't for me.


Review by Brian Clegg


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