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Easy as Pi: The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day    by Jamie Buchan Amazon.com order for
Easy as Pi
by Jamie Buchan
Order:  USA  Can
Readers Digest, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Easy as Pi: The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day, Jamie Buchan (whose great-grandfather John Buchan's many excellent novels were my teen favorites) gives readers 'a wide-ranging look at the pervasive influence of numbers' ... 'from zero to infinity via Amazonian tribes, drug culture, and nuclear paranoia.'

Sections address Numbers in Language; Numbers in Fiction; Numbers in Culture; Numbers in Mythology and Religion; and Numbers in Math and Science. Numbers in Language range from terms like Do a Number to 420 (a code for marijuana use) - Buchan describes origins where they are known (which they are not in the case of Nineteen to the Dozen).

Numbers in Fiction takes us from 00000 (of Gravity's Rainbow fame) to 24601 (from Victor Hugo's Les MisÚrables), addressing along the way films like The Seven Samurai and Catch-22, and books such as John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

Next, Numbers in Culture begins with 1.618 - The Golden Number and ends with The Ten Percent Myth (that we only use that portion of our brains). Along the way, topics include illegal gambling; Why Buses Come in Threes; fictional phone numbers; and an Amazonian tribe whose language covers only three numbers (one, two, many).

Numbers in Mythology and Religion starts with the mysticism of Seven (including the Seven Wonders of the World, only one of which still stands). It addresses various traditions of numerology, different zodiacs, and significance of specific numbers in human cultures, ending on Five and the Pentagram.

Numbers in Math and Science begins with A Mathematical Glossary for readers who need a quick review. Further topics include Divisibility Tricks; The Fibonacci Sequence; Misleading Statistics (one we should all study carefully); and different usages of the term Billions.

In his introduction to Easy as Pi, Buchan quotes Pythagoras as saying that 'numbers rule the universe.' Anyone with an interest in how numbers relate to our daily lives - and the lives of those who went before us - will enjoy and be intrigued by the eclectic topics he addresses.

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