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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.

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Review by Brian Clegg


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