‘Numbers: How Counting Changed the World’ by Tom Jackson

Tom Jackson’s Numbers: How Counting Changed the World is a book my wife and I found at a store purely by happenstance while we were shopping for other things. We immediately knew our 8yo son would be into it, and we’ve been 100% right.

The book covers the surprisingly fascinating history of mathematics — like where various number systems were developed and the people and cultures that discovered them — and introduces all kinds of mathematical concepts in a way that bright kids can understand.

Did you know that the division symbol is actually a dagger? Or that something as simple as “1, 2, 3” nearly ended up breaking math for good? What is an imaginary number exactly?

Numbers may seem simple on the surface but they will defy your imagination.

Written to engage, entertain and enthuse readers young and old, Numbers: How Counting Changed the World takes an entirely new approach to the wonderful world of mathematics. Along the way, readers will meet the early geniuses who figured out what numbers are and what we could do with them. They’ll learn how numbers influence almost everything around us, from the invention of the first computer to the way we count and experience time itself.

And, they’ll encounter strange and quirky stories about some of math’s biggest names. From John Napier, the inventor of algorithms — who never went anywhere without his pet rooster — to Pythagoras, who just might have been a murderer, [this book] shows that there is much more to numbers than 1, 2, 3.

The chapters cover topics like the golden ratio, prime numbers, the Fibonacci sequence, binary and other bases (base 10, etc), the concept of infinity (including how some “infinities” are bigger than others), the number “googolplex”, and much more.

I would’ve much rather had a book like this in my hands growing up than be forced to do busywork calculations every day from a textbook. At least then I would’ve understood why we calculate things the way we do, not just plug numbers into memorized formulas for the purposes of some test.

The paperback edition is $20 on Amazon. (I do wish they carried the hardcover version, as that’s what we have and it’s held up really well to my son’s rough handling. Ah well.)