Thinking in Numbers: How Maths Illuminates Our Lives
Tammet (Daniel)
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Inside Cover Blurb

  1. This is the book that Daniel Tammet, bestselling author and mathematical savant, was born to write. In Tammet's world, numbers are beautiful and mathematics illuminates our lives and minds. Using anecdotes and everyday examples, Tammet allows us to share his unique insights and delight in the way numbers, fractions and equations underpin all our lives.
  2. Inspired by the complexity of snowflakes, Anne Boleyn's sixth finger or his mother's unpredictable behaviour, Tammet explores questions such as why time seems to speed up as we age, whether there is such a thing as an average person and how we can make sense of those we love.
  3. Thinking in Numbers will change the way you think about maths and fire your imagination to see the world with fresh eyes.

  1. Family Values – 4
  2. Eternity in an Hour – 11
  3. Counting to Four in Icelandic – 19
  4. Proverbs and Times Tables – 29
  5. Classroom Intuitions – 38
  6. Shakespeare’s Zero – 47
  7. Shapes of Speech – 54
  8. On Big Numbers – 62
  9. Snowman – 72
  10. Invisible Cities – 80
  11. Are We Alone? – 89
  12. The Calendar of Omar Khayyam – 99
  13. Counting by Elevens – 107
  14. The Admirable Number Pi – 114
  15. Einstein’s Equations – 126
  16. A Novelist’s Calculus – 136
  17. Book of Books – 147
  18. Poetry of the Primes – 154
  19. All Things Are Created Unequal – 165
  20. A Model Mother – 174
  21. Talking Chess – 185
  22. Selves and Statistics – 196
  23. The Cataract of Time – 209
  24. Higher than Heaven – 216
  25. The Art of Maths – 223

  1. Every afternoon, seven summers ago, I sat at my kitchen table in the south of England and wrote a book. Its name was "Tammet (Daniel) - Born On a Blue Day". The keys on my computer registered hundreds of thousands of impressions. Typing out the story of my formative years, I realised how many choices make up a single life. Every sentence or paragraph confided some decision I or someone else - a parent, teacher or friend - had taken, or not taken. Naturally I was my own first reader, and it is no exaggeration to say that in writing, then reading the book, the course of my life was inexorably changed.
  2. The year before that summer, I had travelled to the Center for Brain Studies in California. The neurologists there probed me with a battery of tests. It took me back to early days in a London hospital when, surveying my brain for seizure activity, the doctors had fixed me up to an encephalogram machine. Attached wires had streamed down and around my little head, until it resembled something hauled up out of the deep, like angler’s swag.
  3. In America, these scientists wore tans and white smiles. They gave me sums to solve, and long sequences of numbers to learn by heart. Newer tools measured my pulse and my breathing as I thought. I submitted to all these experiments with a burning curiosity; it felt exciting to learn the secret of my childhood.
  4. My autobiography opens with their diagnosis. My difference finally had a name. Until then it had gone by a whole gamut of inventive aliases: painfully shy, hyper-sensitive, cack-handed (in my father’s characteristically colourful words). According to the scientists, I had high-functioning autistic savant syndrome: the connections in my brain, since birth, had formed unusual circuits. Back home in England I began to write, with their encouragement, producing pages that in the end found favour with a London editor.
  5. To this day, readers both of the first book and of my second, "Tammet (Daniel) - Embracing the Wide Sky: A tour across the horizons of the mind" continue to send me their messages. They wonder how it must be to perceive words and numbers in different colours, shapes and textures. They try to picture solving a sum in their mind using these multi-dimensional coloured shapes. They seek the same beauty and emotion that I find in both a poem and a prime number. What can I tell them?
  6. Imagine. Close your eyes and imagine a space without limits, or the infinitesimal events that can stir up a country’s revolution. Imagine how the perfect game of chess might start and end: a win for white, or black or a draw? Imagine numbers so vast that they exceed every atom in the universe, counting with eleven or twelve fingers instead of ten, reading a single book in an infinite number of ways.
  7. Such imagination belongs to everyone. It even possesses its own science: mathematics. Ricardo Nemirovsky and Francesca Ferrara, who specialise in the study of mathematical cognition, write that, ‘Like literary fiction, mathematical imagination entertains pure possibilities.’ This is the distillation of what I take to be interesting and important about the way in which mathematics informs our imaginative life. Often we are barely aware of it, but the play between numerical concepts saturates the way we experience the world.
  8. This new book, a collection of twenty-five essays on the ‘maths of life’, entertains pure possibilities. According to the definition offered by Nemirovsky and Ferrara, ‘pure’ here means something immune to prior experience or expectation. The fact that we have never read an endless book, or counted to infinity (and beyond!) or made contact with an extra-terrestrial civilisation (all subjects of essays in the book) should not prevent us from wondering: what if?
  9. Inevitably, my choice of subjects has been wholly personal and therefore eclectic. There are some autobiographical elements but the emphasis throughout is outward looking. Several of the pieces are biographical, prompted by imagining a young Shakespeare’s first arithmetic lessons in the zero - a new idea in sixteenth-century schools - or the calendar created for a Sultan by the poet and mathematician Omar Khayyam. Others take the reader around the globe and back in time, with essays inspired by the snows of Quebec, sheep counting in Iceland and the debates of ancient Greece that facilitated the development of the Western mathematical imagination.
  10. Literature adds a further dimension to the exploration of those pure possibilities. As Nemirovsky and Ferrara suggest, there are numerous similarities in the patterns of thinking and creating shared by writers and mathematicians (two vocations often considered incomparable). In ‘The Poetry of the Primes’, for example, I explore the way in which certain poems and number theory coincide. At the risk of disappointing fans of ‘mathematically-constructed’ novels, I admit this book has been written without once mentioning the name ‘Perec’.
  11. The following pages attest to the changes in my perspective over the seven years since that summer in southern England. Travels through many countries in pursuit of my books as they go from language to language, accumulating accents, have contributed much to my understanding. Exploring the many links between mathematics and fiction has been another spur. Today, I live in the heart of Paris. I write full-time. Every day I sit at a table and ask myself: what if?
    → Daniel Tammet, Paris, March 2012


Hodder & Stoughton (16 Aug. 2012). Hardback.

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  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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