Wilson: Lewis Carroll in Numberland
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Robin Wilson, Lewis Carroll in Numberland : His Fantastical, Mathematical, Logical Life: An Agony in Eight Fits. New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2008. xii + 237 pages.
We all know of Lewis Carroll, author of the immortal Alice in Wonderland books. Many of us know of his “other” life as Charles Dodgson, mathematician. Some of us know that he was one of the first photographers in England, and one of the finest. Few of us are aware of his life as a professor, poet, friend and family member. (Dodgson himself never married, but was very devoted to his siblings and their children.) This book discusses the man from all those points of view, and it does so very nicely besides.
Full of illustrations, puzzles, stories and excerpts from Dodgson’s works, the book brings to life a brilliant mind, a quirky personality, an interesting, multi-faceted man.
Robin Wilson, himself a mathematician, a professor of pure mathematics (one wonders what “impure” mathematics might be...), takes great delight in explaining the various mathematical issues which fascinated Dodgson. At the same time, Wilson is no slouch in the story-telling side of his endeavor. From the very first page of the introduction, I was hooked. Wilson’s prose is clear and enjoyable, never overly wordy or needlessly dry. With several other books to his credit, including the rather well-known Four Colors Suffice: How the map problem was solved, Wilson is no stranger to publishing and knows how to keep his readers’ attention.
My only slight irritation with the book was the great need to keep flipping to the back of the book for the solutions to the puzzles/problems in the text.
All in all, this was a good read, filled with fun facts and tantalizing puzzles and puns. It is well worth the time to track it down and devour.
-- Notes by SJB