Rogerson's Book of Numbers

Some numbers play a central iconic role in cultures all over the world, like 12 (months, hours), 7 (week days), 10 or 20 (fingers and toes), etc. Other numbers have a more specific cultural or religeous origin, and may differ depending on the community. For example 13 is bad luck number in Western society, while 14 is bad luck in Chinese society.

In this book Rogerson has collected miscellaneous numerological facts in the form of a small encyclopedia. Small in the sense that it is not exhaustive and that it is less than 300 pages, but also the dimensions of book are small (18 x 11.6 x 2.6 cm) like a prayer book or a pocket bible. It grew out of a previous slimmer version, and is currently still growing on the author's website. In fact long lists of names like the 108 names of Krishna, the 50 Argonauts, or the 74 hidden names of Ra etc. should be consulted there. Only the first names on the list are given in the book.

So the collection is a countdown from millions, tens of thousands, ... until two, one, zero. Some numbers have more entries than other, but the general trend is that lower numbers have many more than the hundreds and thousands. Barnaby Rogerson has written several travel guides for Mediteranian countries and he also wrote a biography on the Prophet Muhammad, and other books about the crusades and on Islamic history. With these antecedents it is understandable that most entries have some Islamic, Jewish, or Christian origin. However, there are also many things to learn from entries with an Asian religeous background and of course also from Greek and Norse mythology and much more. You will learn about the story behind all these numbers: why 88 is a lucky number in China, why the USA flag hat 13 stripes, how Dante's Divina Comedia is built on the number 11, the origin of the 4 card suits and the 4 legs of the swastika, and the 3 leaves of the shamrock. It is remarkable that zero, which is a very remarkable number, has only 3 entries. It comes from the Sanskit (Shoonya = void) via the arab (Safira) and the Italian (zefiro) and arrived only late in the Western culture. It is so special among the numbers that it has long been considered as not a number at all.

Of course there is some multiplication and division underlying many of the numbers that organize our lives like 360 which can be divided by 30, 20, 12, 4 which was useful for astronomical computations, and which still survives in the 360 degrees of the circle and the dial of an analog clock. However, it should be clear from the previous description, that there is no math involved here. The mathematical construction of the Fibonacci spiral on the cover is somewhat misleading. No prime numbers, no properties from number theory whatsoever. No stories like Ramanujan's remark about his taxi-cab number 1729. You definitely do find a lot of inspiration for less mathematical number stories to tell.

A. Bultheel
KU Leuven
Book details

Not really math but numerology: an encyclopedia of numbers, with entries that give historical facts or that explain the origin of why some numbers play an iconic role in society and culture.

Author:  Publisher: 
978-1-78125-0990 (hbk)
£9.99 (hbk)