Smoothly written and full of entertaining lore.

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PERFECT FIGURES

THE LORE OF NUMBERS AND HOW WE LEARNED TO COUNT

Essays on the history and symbolism of familiar numbers.

Crumpacker (The Sex Life of Food: When Body and Soul Meet to Eat, 2006) goes through the digits in sequence. The essay on one is typical. It begins with generalizations: One is the beginning, from which all else grows, but before we became fully human, even one meant nothing to us. This segues into a discussion of counting, with reference to such early artifacts as a baboon thighbone incised with notches, much like those on a gunslinger’s pistol. Later came baked clay tokens to symbolize the items being counted—for example, jars of wine in a shipment. The next step was simply to draw the correct number of items directly on a clay tablet: the first shipping invoice. Crumpacker moves on from these simple uses of a number—and of the words for it—to more metaphorical and mystical uses, as for example the Pythagorean philosophers’ attribution of various qualities to particular numbers. The book runs the gamut of counting numbers up to twelve, with a special nod to zero, the key to our modern system of mathematical notation. It then jumps to a hundred, a thousand, a million and finally to almost unimaginably large quantities like the googol (one followed by a hundred zeroes) and googolplex (one followed by a googol of zeroes). At each step, the author remarks on a number’s inherent qualities. Six is a “perfect” number, for example, because “it’s equal to the sum of its parts. Six can be divided by one, two, and three, and if you add these numbers the sum is six. Perfection.” Crumpacker also provides folklore, such as which numbers are considered lucky. While mathematicians are likely to scoff, those who blanch at the notion of long division may find this the most entertaining section of the book.

Smoothly written and full of entertaining lore.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-312-36005-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2007

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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