Finalist for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
"What a fun escape! Reminds me of math books I read when I was coming of age." —Neil deGrasse Tyson
An "exhilarating" (Steven Strogatz) tour through the fundamental mathematical concepts—from arithmetic to infinity—that form the building blocks of our universe.
Our universe has multiple origin stories, from religious creation myths to the Big Bang of scientists. But if we leave those behind and start from nothing—no matter, no cosmos, not even empty space—could we create a universe using only math? Irreverent, richly illustrated, and boundlessly creative, The Big Bang of Numbers invites us to try.
In this new mathematical origin story, mathematician and novelist Manil Suri creates a natural progression of ideas needed to design our world, starting with numbers and continuing through geometry, algebra, and beyond. He reveals the secret lives of real and imaginary numbers, teaches them to play abstract games with real-world applications, discovers unexpected patterns that connect humble lifeforms to enormous galaxies, and explores mathematical underpinnings for randomness and beauty. With evocative examples ranging from multidimensional crochet to the Mona Lisa’s asymmetrical smile, as well as ingenious storytelling that helps illuminate complex concepts like infinity and relativity, The Big Bang of Numbers charts a playful, inventive course to existence. Mathematics, Suri shows, might best be understood not as something we invent to explain Nature, but as the source of all creation, whose directives Nature tries to obey as best she can.
Offering both striking new perspectives for math aficionados and an accessible introduction for anyone daunted by calculation, The Big Bang of Numbers proves that we can all fall in love with math.
Suri (The City of Devi), a novelist and math professor at the University of Maryland, takes on the challenge of developing mathematics from scratch in this high concept thought experiment. Suri divides his work into seven "days," analogous to the seven days of creation in the Bible. Day one brings the invention of arithmetic, in which Suri shows how to "create" numbers, writing that they're their own "independent entities." In subsequent chapters, the newly created numbers play games to invent mathematical concepts such as geometry (which is day two), patterns (on day four), infinity (on day six), and on the final day, emergence, which is the "spontaneous generation of complexity" that "could plausibly create life itself." Suri takes a jovial approach to his subject (there are, for example, side-notes to the Pope, who Suri writes would be his "most treasured potential reader"), and suggests that "the neat thing" about math is that it "can be enjoyed without needing any special mathematical knowledge or being a computation whiz." Lay readers may have their doubts, though, as the author's explanations sometimes confound (his breakdown of different sizes of infinity, for instance, can be a trip to parse). The math-minded, though, will enjoy Suri's unique approach.