Book Review: Thinking in Numbers by Daniel Tammet

This was by no means one of the books that I had ever intended to read. I’d never heard of the author nor had this particular book been recommended to me. I found it whilst perusing the science section of a local bookshop, having already determined that I would leave with at least once science book in my possession. I think I’ve said before, certainly in person, if not on this blog, that I am a sucker for a good cover. Not only was the title good enough to make me pick up to take a closer look, but the description of the book and the recommendations printed on both the back and the front were enough to make me think this was worth paying a little bit of money for.

The book is written as a series of short essays, seemingly distinct and with little to no overall narrative to it. So it’s a good book to have lying around that can be picked up, read for 15-20 minutes and put down again.

It covers a variety of topics from Tammet’s point of view. It must be noted that Tammet (not his real name, he changed it to ‘better fit’ his identity) is described as a high functioning autistic savant. In short, he’s a really clever chap. Now I’ve come across one or two in my time and have been able to hold my own against them in some intellectual challenges. However, they usually get the upper hand on me and I can’t quite emulate their speed or agility of thought, which I admit has been a cause of some chagrin from the age of 17 onwards; before that, I immodestly add, I was always the cleverest person I knew.

So it was with some relish, and a little touch of rivalry, that I wanted to get to see the world through such a savant’s eyes. In many respects, what I was reading seemed to be the account of a more articulate version of myself, with the only difference that Tammet views numbers as colours. I knew several in the maths department at university who did this, but I always think in terms of ‘complements’ – i.e. what number would you need to add to make a round number? So if someone says 7, I think 3. If they say 83, I think 17.

I probably ought to confess that I finished this review a few weeks after reading the book, so I am relying a little on memory. While reading it, I found it quite fascinating, but a few weeks later the only things that really stick in my mind are the fact that he came from a very large family and a compelling account of his recitation of digits of pi. This last bit was especially impressive as it ran on for thousands of digits and the recitation took several hours to complete.

The book will be of note to anyone interested in maths or to those who are keen in trying to understand how other people tick. Indeed, if anyone wants to understand me, then this is an account that gets as close to me as any I think I have read; although there are some marked differences.

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One response to “Book Review: Thinking in Numbers by Daniel Tammet

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Longitude by Dava Sobel | The Alethiophile