Student Review: 1089 and All That: A Journey Into Mathematics

May 26, 2011

Author: David Acheson

Edition: Second

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 184

Price: £8.99

ISBN 9780199590025

The author was first impressed by mathematics as a child, when he discovered a simple maths magic trick involving certain three-figure numbers that, when manipulated in a certain way, always give the answer 1089 -hence the title of the book. The trick is explained on the first page, so it gets the reader thinking straight away. You'll find you can't resist trying it for yourself and showing others.

David Acheson sums up mathematics in six words - "wonderful theorems, beautiful proofs, great applications" - and he takes the reader on a journey showing why using maths is special to him. He gives the background to some of the mathematics you probably learned at school and helps you to understand interesting mathematical facts.

While reading this book I repeatedly found myself showing different tricks and facts to friends. The book has plenty of illustrations and is laid out so that when you are faced with a problem to puzzle over, if you are bamboozled (which I frequently was) a very clear explanation is presented on the next page. I particularly liked a puzzle in chapter two, "In love with geometry", where you are shown two shapes and asked if one can be bent into the shape of the other. It looked totally impossible, but the explanation was clear and showed how wrong I was. Another chapter asks "What is the secret of all life?" - the answer is chlorophyll, apparently - and another links an upside-down pendulum with the Indian rope trick.

One of the reviewers quoted at the front of the book states that his 10-year-old read the book with his guidance and loved it; but although some tricks might inspire some children, I think most would struggle through discussions of Pythagoras, Fermat's last theorem and differential equations, to name but a few. Moreover, I found some chapters a little slow, but if you stick with them you will be pleasantly surprised.

1089 and All That is definitely thought-provoking. It is a short, informal, funny fact book that happens to include some maths and a little history, and gives the reader plenty to mull over. It can be read in a few hours and you can quickly re-read a chapter without having to go through the whole book. I think it gives even those who dislike maths a glimpse of why mathematicians love their subject.

Who is it for? Anyone with a love of puzzles and an interest in maths.

Presentation: Fun facts.

Would you recommend it? Yes, to budding mathematicians.

Recommended

Linear Algebra: A Geometric Approach Authors Theodore Shifrin and Malcolm R. Adams

Edition: Second revised

Publisher: W.H. Freeman & Company

Pages: 464

Price: £62.99

ISBN 9781429215213

I really like the way this is set out: clear and methodical, with useful examples and interesting historical notes.

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