An effort at making sense of big numbers, with digressions into the history and various fields of mathematics.
Really big numbers are, for the most part, either vexing or comical, meaningless or all about effect. Huggins-Cooper’s hinge is Rubik’s Cube, the plastic puzzle that has frustrated gazillions. “The numbers start to get really big when you look at all the different ways the cubes can be arranged. And that’s when you will discover just how big 43 quintillion is.” The brief forays into the history of math and mathematicians are straightforward; readers “discover” something about zero, place value and the decimal system, Pythagoras, Al Khwarizmi and Fibonacci, endlessness and absence. The speed of light comes into focus, and the Ishango Bone, possibly the first evidence of counting (on a baboon’s leg, at that), is a hoot of a mystery. But other attempts at revelation fall short: “Think about 1,000,000 miles—that’s almost the distance to the moon and back, two times,” while the accompanying artwork depicts more than two times. “The ‘golden ratio’ is a special number” is too airy by half, and the relationship of the radius to the circumference, Pi, is again trumped by its illustration, which appears to show a 1-yard radius producing a circumference of 3.14 yards.
The busyness of the endeavor turns it into a turkey shoot, where luck—more than skill—is the likelier factor in making a point. (Nonfiction. 9-13)