Review: The Grapes of Math by Alex Bellos

If you were not aware of how much of a nerd I am before I published this then you are definitely aware of it now. Spare me your jokes about how unbelievably nerdy this book is because I am self aware and mildly ashamed of my own enjoyment of this book.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about this gem of a book! 

I picked up this little book at the end of a very long, rough semester. A Biomedical Sciences and Mathematics major, I was hesitant to read something about a subject that I have been studying so in depth. Still the “punny” name and the cute cover intrigued me so much that I could not resist. I plunged into this book with such a ferocity that I surprised even myself.

“Mathematics is a joke. I’m not being funny. You need to ‘get’ a joke just as you need to ‘get’ math. The mental process is the same”

In under 300 pages Bellos manages to sum up everything that makes me love mathematics. He captures the art and wonder of the mathematicians of old through skilled narrative without relying on the reader’s previous knowledge making this book accessible to all readers. All the while he carefully explains and summarizes the theories, discoveries, and principles on which these men spent their lives. His obvious thorough understanding of these principles, flowing from his mathematics degree from Oxford University, allows him to elaborate on the importance and weight of each discovery he highlights while not talking down to the reader.

“Beauty in mathematics is about elegance of expression and making unexpected connections”

Probably the most brilliant part of this book is the structuring of the chapters. Each chapter, beginning with a short narrative that ties in with the overarching principle, highlights one mathematical concept without assuming previous knowledge. Starting out at the high school level, Bellos works through each concept until each chapter eventually reaches a graduate level of understanding. Thus allowing the reader to choose to read beyond their understanding or skip ahead to a brilliant summary. Every chapter comes with plenty of visual aids to help the reader visualize the concepts being discussed and helps even the most mathematically challenged reader understand everything being discussed.

“Math is, an always has been, a game. It’s the game of life.”

Honestly, this book is a highly enjoyable, highly readable book that every curious, slightly nerdy reader will enjoy. If you are a math-fanatic you will enjoy a delightful romp into your fields that will surprise you with its depth. If you are math-hater you will enjoy a short yet thorough history of mathematics along with its applications in everyday life.

Bottom Line: Without being too dense or pretentious, Bellos delivers a book that helped me fall back in love with mathematics. It is not a must read, but its a fun read.


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