Alex's Adventures in Numberland: Dispatches From The Wonderful World of Mathematics  by Alex Bellos
(Bloomsbury, 2010)

Alex's Adventures in Numberland: Dispatches From The Wonderful World of Mathematics

by Alex Bellos

Intrigued by integers?
Curious about quadratics?
Puzzled by probability?
Spooked by spirals?

Discover the wonderful world of maths without feeling out of your depth…

In this richly entertaining and accessible book, Alex Bellos explodes the myth that maths is best left to the geeks. Covering subjects from adding to algebra, from set theory to statistics, and from logarithms to logical paradoxes, he explains how mathematical ideas underpin just about everything in our lives. Alex explains the surprising geometry of the 50p piece, and the strategy of how best to gamble it in a casino. He shines a light on the mathematical patterns in nature, and on the peculiar predictability of random behaviour. He eats a potato crisp whose revolutionary shape was unpalatable to the ancient Greeks, and he shows the deep connections between maths, religion and philosophy. Alex weaves a journey from primary school to university level maths, from ancient history to the computing frontline, and from St Louis, Missouri, to Braintree, Essex. He meets the world’s fastest mental calculators in Germany, consults a numerologist in the US desert, meets a startlingly numerate chimpanzee in Japan, and seeks advice from a venerable Hindu sage in India. An unlikely but exhilarating cocktail of history, reportage and mathematical proofs, Alex’s dispatches from ‘Numberland’ show the world of maths to be a much friendlier and more colourful place than you might have imagined.


  • Samuel Johnson Prize (Shortlisted)
  • National Book Awards Non-Fiction Book of the Year (Shortlisted)


A page-turner about humanity’s strange, never easy and above all never dull, relationship with numbers. ”
- New Scientist
Bellos's enthusiasm is infectious. He does not patronise his readers. Even those suffering from a phobia about maths would find his book revealing and insightful. Bellos’s achievement is to demonstrate that, in mathematics, we are all equal. Those who cannot “do” maths need not be left out. ”
- The Independent
Spectacularly successful introduction to the excitement and wonder of mathematics. ”
- The Sunday Times
If there was one book that was going to be compulsory for the nation to read, it would be this one. ”
- Evan Davis
This is an excellently researched and well-written book that distinguishes itself from the body of popular science books by interspersing and motivating the mathematics it contains using stories, interviews and conversations with a variety of people, ranging from mathematicians and linguists to mystics. The result is a mixture of journalism, travel literature and mathematical history that will have a much wider appeal than many other accessible texts on mathematics…The interviews are entertaining and complement the mathematics very well. Moreover, the people he meets are passionate about mathematics, and Bellos does an excellent job of describing this passion in a way that will not be lost on a general audience…this is a worthy newcomer to the popular science bookshelf. ”
- London Mathematical Society Newsletter
A kaleidoscope of delightful toys from a field most people don’t think of as “delightful” at all…Numbers or no numbers, it will spark an interest in maths or fuel one that’s already there. Any reader will come away with a feel for what mathematicians are like as people, a taste of what they do for a living and an insight into why it excites them…Pick it up, look anywhere and there’s something as pleasing as you’ll find in any collection of aphorisms. But Bellos’s dispatches add up to much more: a travelogue through a bizarre and beautiful country that rules us all but which too few of us have had the chance to visit. ”
- The Guardian
With elegance and wit Bellos manages to convey both the complexity and wonder of the world of numbers. Even when I thought I knew a topic back-to-front Bellos would throw in an example or idea that piqued my mathematical excitement and prompted me to reinvestigate. ”
- New Humanist
Alex’s book is a treasure house for the curious and those interested in connecting the dots between history and present. ”
- Daily News & Analysis, India
The book’s achievement is its ability not just to bring out the everyday playfulness and ‘would-you-believe- it’ wonderment in mathematics but also critically, to ground a subject that is often seen as hyperbolic, in the cultural. Mathematics is not just relevant and fun, but in the story of our engagement with it, lies the better qualities of us as a species. ”
- Tehelka Magazine, India