ASNSW Book Reviews

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“BIG NUMBERS - A MIND EXPANDING TRIP TO INFINITY AND BACK”

Author: Mary and John Gribbin
Illustrations: Ralph Edney & Nicholas Halliday
Reviewed by: Don Whiteman

This is another book in the “how big is big” category. It is liberally sprinkled with caricature illustrations by Edney and Halliday that are well done and in context. This is not the type of book that one would read as a novel, however it would be great to pick up and read over lunch or in a waiting room.

Whilst reading it for this review, I was quite astounded by some of the numbers. As I type away at my keyboard, I think of computing power. William Shanks spent 28 years working out Pi to 707 places (and he still made an error at 528 places), but with today’s modern computers it can be taken down to billions of places in a mere second.

It would take a human being 10,000,000 years to calculate what the IBM/RS6000 ASCI/WHITE can calculate in under a minute.

We live in a world full of large numbers; 6,000,000 bacteria in a glass of milk, or more molecules in a single breath than the stars in all of the galaxies in the universe. Did you know that a single (pregnant) fruit fly has the capacity to multiply to 62,500,000,000 in four weeks - absolutely staggering!

Numbers like this are right throughout this book, along with explanations of how they are distilled down to manageable units that we can more readily grasp.

For a light read I can highly recommend this book.