Science Book a Day Interviews Alex Bellos


Special thanks to Alex Bellos for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – Alex Through the Looking-Glass: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life

I’m Alex Bellos, and I’m the author of books about mathematics and Brazil. The UK title of my latest maths book is Alex Through the Looking-Glass. The US version of this book is The Grapes of Math. More information about Looking-Glass/Grapes is contained on, a site with the results from my global survey about favourite numbers. I’m based in London, where as well as writing books. I blog about maths for the Guardian. – Adapted from Alex’s Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for Alex Through The Looking Glass? Is it some sort of sequel to Alex’s Adventures in Numberland?

The impetus for writing the second book was the same as for the first – I want to convey the joy of maths.

Looking-Glass is not a sequel to Numberland. They are more like companion volumes. The books can be read in any order, and are concerned with different areas of mathematics. Alex’s Adventures in Numberland is more about abstraction, and Alex Through the Looking-Glass is more about how maths relates to the world. But once the first book was called Alex’s Adventures in Numberland…there was only one possible title for the second book!

#2 – The US title is The Grapes of Math. Any reason for the different US title?

You need to ask the Americans! My US publisher called the first book Here’s Looking at Euclid. So we needed a non-Lewis Carroll title for the second, and The Grapes of Math was the best pun I could think of.

#3 – You conducted your own survey (with over 30,000 submissions) of the world’s favourite number. What was the result! Were you surprised? What is your favourite number?

Ironically, I don’t have a favourite number. But that’s why I became so fascinated by them. I wanted to investigate why some people and not others react emotionally to numbers. The number 7 came top – and the reason is quite clearly because of the arithmetic of the number 7.

#4 – You talk about how our world, so seemingly complex, is constantly conforming to patterns. How are our minds attuned to numbers?

Our brains are attracted to patterns, including numerical patterns. Maths, at its most basic, is the analysis of patterns.

#5 – Have you already got another book on the boil?

I have a few ideas but nothing definite. It was such a hard job writing Looking-Glass that I need a break for a while…

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