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The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure…

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure (1997)

by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Other authors: Rotraut Susanne Berner (Illustrator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Very interesting concept. I was expecting something along the lines of The Phantom Tollbooth but this book doesn't even come close to that level of whimsical profoundness. I was definitely disappointed. The encounters between the dreaming child Robert and the Number Devil quickly become repetitive and stale. The author is trying to make children realize for themselves that mathematics are beautiful but the execution of this goal is actually quite ordinary. This book is recommended for kids 10 but I think it's more appropriate for an even younger audience. When I was 10, I was reading A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels... The Number Devil would have bored me to tears. ( )
  bookishblond | Oct 24, 2018 |
Book Review: The Number Devil
My first encounter with this book was the jacket, with a cartoon devil and a quote describing The Number Devil as a cross between Alice and Wonderland and Flatland. Having never read Flatland, but being familiar with Alice in Wonderland, I was intrigued, and indeed there were many aspects of the novel which invoked an Alice in Wonderland feel. Robert finds himself being guided through an imaginary mathematical universe, much as Alice was led through Wonderland; however, the major similarity ends there as Hans Enzensberger reveals a handful of the most fascinating mathematical concepts with comical prose and lively illustration. A reader of any age and mathematical competence is confronted with the vastness of numbers and math through the eyes of Robert and his guide.
The first feature of the book which I enjoyed was the simplicity of the presentation of complex mathematical ideas. The Number Devil begins by showing Robert basic operations with 1’s, and each subsequent dream/chapter expands on the ideas behind it. The building up of complicated ideas with numbers from very small and simple building blocks is a central tenet in the study of mathematics, and this structure encourages young readers to think about the math they have been acquainted with and consider how they might expound on those concepts. The section devoted to place value strikes a good balance between the history of math, which is delivered through the demonstration of Roman numerals, and teaching the concept and necessity of place value in larger mathematical systems. Students are presented math they have likely seen before in elementary grades, and asked to consider how difficult it would be to work with numbers without zero. Since the chapters are relatively short and interspersed with illustrations and calculations, young readers are afforded the opportunity to dive into the topic without being overwhelmed.
A second feature of the novel that I appreciated was the mixture of whimsical and technical terminology for the topics discussed. For example, the Number Devil calls prime numbers, “prima donnas;” square roots, “rutabagas;” factorial, “vroom;” units, “quang” and so on. As an adult reader, I chuckled at the author’s choices for these math vocabulary terms, because many are tangentially related to the official term. By doing so, the author demonstrates to young students the human side of mathematics, a subject that many view as boring or uninspired. In reality, the mathematical concepts, terms, and processes of thinking have been passed down through the centuries like many other academic traditions. Enzensberger also makes a modest attempt to showcase the diverse range of people what have contributed to the development of math through the ages. Balancing this with the pure mathematics opens the door for students with varying interests to engage with the novel.
The close of the book is one of the finest parts, and does an even better job of emphasizing the fluidity of mathematical knowledge than changing a few terms. In language that is accessible to many ages, the author introduces the idea of mathematical proof and the curiosity to know not just “how” numbers work, but “why” as well. Robert’s desire for proof is ultimately what leads him to a seat at the table with the great mathematicians of the ages, and is a trait that all math teachers should cultivate in their students. Importantly, the character of the Number Devil confesses that not even the smartest mathematician, teacher, or mentor knows all the answers, a fact that can be both disappointing and exhilarating. By addressing these topics early in a student’s mathematical journey, this book can serve as a valuable tool for teachers to build mathematical literacy and understanding. ( )
  apoyner | Aug 29, 2018 |
Hans Enzensberger's novel presents the amazing qualities of mathematics in a fun way - through dreams! For people who have a good grasp on mathematical concepts, this book is a great read to bring you back to basics and perhaps spark interest in the reasons behind why certain principles work. For readers who might not have such a strong relationship with mathematics, the story can definitely spark a sense of intrigue as the standard-boring-presented math we see in many school classrooms is explained in fun and unusual ways. From a literature perspective, the plot is sort of weak as we simply see Robert learning new things to do with math during his dreams. From a teacher's perspective the only issue I had with the novel is the use of childish terms for real mathematical vocabulary. The author mentions this in the end of the story, but reinforcing these words throughout the plot could lead to confusion when these topics are discussed in a physical classroom. Overall I would suggest this book for anyone interested in the amazing qualities math has to offer. ( )
  BComeaux | Aug 29, 2018 |
I don't remember this really well as I read it as a kid, other than it was really cool and I think I had some crazy dreams after it. ( )
  locriian | Oct 27, 2014 |
This is an adventure in mathematics. The book goes through different higher mathematical concepts that grow progressively more complicated. This work of fiction is interesting, because it uses the vehicle of a child being frustrated with his math teacher to start the story. The story is told through dreams and shows the magic and wonder of numbers. ( )
  jlapac | Aug 14, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hans Magnus Enzensbergerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Berner, Rotraut SusanneIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fortea, CarlosTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heim, Michael HenryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meeuse, PietTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
Roberto è uno dei tanti ragazzi per i quali la matematica è un incubo incomprensibile. Una notte gli appare in sogno un curioso ometto rosso che gli propone straordinari giochi di prestigio: non con le carte, ma con i numeri. Per altre undici notti Roberto si addentra così nell'esplorazione dei sistemi numerici complessi, capisce sempre meglio le leggi e i meccanismi che li governano, incontra Pitagora e Archimede. Scoprirà che la matematica non è affatto la casa noiosa e un po' crudele che si studia a scuola, ma semmai un'avventura entusiasmante. Per Enzensberger la matematica è un mondo immaginario che riserva continue sorprese ed è capace di colpirti con la sua genialità. Questo libro, scritto per una bambina di dieci anni ma destinato ai lettori di tutte le età, ne è la prova.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805062998, Paperback)

Young Robert's dreams have taken a decided turn for the weird. Instead of falling down holes and such, he's visiting a bizarre magical land of number tricks with the number devil as his host. Starting at one and adding zero and all the rest of the numbers, Robert and the number devil use giant furry calculators, piles of coconuts, and endlessly scrolling paper to introduce basic concepts of numeracy, from interesting number sequences to exponents to matrices. Author Hans Magnus Enzensberger's dry humor and sense of wonder will keep you and your kids entranced while you learn (shhh!) mathematical principles. Who could resist the little red guy who calls prime numbers "prima donnas," irrational numbers "unreasonable," and roots "rutabagas"? Not that the number devil is without his devilish qualities. He loses his temper when Robert looks for the easy way out of a number puzzle or dismisses math as boring and useless. "What do you expect?" he asks. "I'm the number devil, not Santa Claus." (Ages 10 to adult) --Therese Littleton

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:41 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Annoyed with his math teacher who assigns word problems and won't let him use a calculator, twelve-year-old Robert finds help from the number devil in his dreams. The international best-seller that makes mathematics a thrilling exploration. In twelve dreams, Robert, a boy who hates math, meets a Number Devil, who leads him to discover the amazing world of numbers: infinite numbers, prime numbers, Fibonacci numbers, numbers that magically appear in triangles, and numbers that expand without . As we dream with him, we are taken further and further into mathematical theory, where ideas eventually take flight, until everyone-from those who fumble over fractions to those who solve complex equations in their heads-winds up marveling at what numbers can do. Hans Magnus Enzensberger is a true polymath, the kind of superb intellectual who loves thinking and marshals all of his charm and wit to share his passions with the world. In The Number Devil, he brings together the surreal logic of Alice in Wonderland and the existential geometry of Flatland with the kind of math everyone would love, if only they had a number devil to teach it to them.… (more)

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