Skip to main content

Fibonacci's Rabbits - Adam Hart-Davis ****

I'm not a great fan of '50 things' type books, though they seem eternally popular, but as was the case with Adam Hart-Davis's psychology title in the same series (Pavlov's Dog), I was pleasantly surprised, in part because the topic was well-suited to the format, and in part because the Hart-Davis has three pages of text to play with rather than just an illustrated spread.

After giving us some foundational and historical aspects of mathematics, from the origins of base 10 and base 60 to pi and zero, Hart Davis gets onto more meaty material, ranging through everything from chaos theory to game theory, plus some lighter weight but enjoyable mathematical deviations such as the Fibonacci sequence rabbits in the book's title, or the strange 3D shapes known as scutoids. It's all easy reading - no mathematical experience required - and a good way to get a feel for the way that maths is so much more than arithmetic, geometry and algebra.

One minor irritation is the way that every item is titled as a question, some of which aren't actually answered in the text. So, for example, we get 'How big is infinity?', which gives us a quick tour of ancient Greeks, Galileo and Cantor, but (perhaps thankfully) doesn't actually attempt to address the question. This entry also demonstrated why this format has its limits on a big topic (no pun intended) like infinity. Hart-Davis mentions, for example, Hilbert's Hotel - but doesn't take the reader through what's involved, so we just get a vague statement that Hilbert used a series of ingenious proofs to show that despite the infinite set of rooms being full, an infinite set of extra guests can be accommodated. There's no point saying this unless it's opened up in a bit more detail.

Despite a few issues with generalisation like this, though, it's a readable and enjoyable exploration for the key aspects of mathematics, plus some of the fun bits.

Paperback:   
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Post a comment

Popular posts from this blog

Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz - Four Way Interview

Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz is Professor of Mammalian Development and Stem Cell Biology at the University of Cambridge, and Bren Professor in Biology and Bioengineering at Caltech. She has published over 150 papers and book chapters in top scientific journals and her work on embryos won the people’s vote for scientific breakthrough of the year in Science magazine.Her new book, co-authored with Roger Highfield, is The Dance of Life: symmetry, cells and how we become human.

Why science?

I fell in love with biology when I was a child because I loved doing experiments and seeing what happened. It was fascinating and enormous fun. I also fell in love with art at the same time. Art and science are both based on experiments and uncovering new paths to understand the world and ourselves. Why do we think the way we think? Where do our feelings come from? Is the 'right' answer always right? Where do we come from? How do parts of our body communicate with each other?  What is the nature of ti…

The Dance of Life - Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz and Roger Highfield ****

There is without doubt a fascination for all of us - even those who can find biology a touch tedious - with the way that a tiny cellular blob develops into the hugely complex thing that is a living organism, especially a human. In this unusual book which I can only describe as a memoir of science, Magalena Zernicka-Goetz, assisted by the Science Museum's Roger Highfield, tells the story of her own career and discoveries.

At the heart of the book, and Zernicka-Goetz's work, is symmetry breaking, a topic very familiar to readers of popular physics titles, but perhaps less so in popular biology. The first real breakthrough from her lab was the discovery of the way that a mouse egg's first division was already asymmetrical - the two new cells were not identical, not equally likely to become embryo and support structure as had always been thought.  As the book progresses, throughout the process of development we see how different symmetries are broken, with a particular focus on…

Meera Senthilingam - Four Way Interview

Meera Senthilingam is currently Content Lead at health start-up Your,MD and was formerly International Health Editor at CNN. She is a journalist, author and public health researcher and has worked with multiple media outlets, such as the BBC, as well as academic institutions, including the LSHTM and Wellcome Trust. She has Masters Degrees in Science Communication and the Control of Infectious Diseases and her interests lie in communicating global health issues to the general public through journalism and working with global health programmes. Her academic research to date has focused on tuberculosis, particularly the burden of drug-resistant tuberculosis and insights into the attitudes and behaviours of the people most affected. Her new book is Outbreaks and Epidemics: battling infection from measles to coronavirus.

Why science?

I have always found science fascinating and have always had a strong passion for it. My friends in high school used to find it amusing to introduce me to people…