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Book review

‘Thinking in Numbers’ by Daniel Tammet

There are two kinds of popular books about mathematics; bracing ones that rub against the frontiers of the subject, and those with a softer touch, aiming for something more like “math appreciation.” These books say to the reader “I know you hated this in school, but hold my hand and you’ll be fine; it’s really not so bad.” Daniel Tammet’s “Thinking in Numbers’’ is the softest of the soft, an affable if finally rather lightweight collection of essays and observations perhaps better described as “around” mathematics than about it.

Tammet, a high-functioning autistic savant, is the author of a best-selling autobiography, “Born on a Blue Day,’’ and he brings to “Thinking in Numbers’’ the memoirist’s handiness with a well-placed detail. In his new book, the details come not from his own life story but from a broad landscape of mathematical, intellectual, and literary history. One gets the sense throughout that Tammet spends a lot of time in a comfortable and well-stocked library.

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