In honesty, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book. As a general rule, press releases that come my way – unless they’re very tightly targeted – can expect to find their way into my ‘spam’ folder.

Matthew Watkins’ Secrets of Creation was a little lucky to escape that fate. Maybe it caught me in a good mood. In fact, it must have done: the title points directly at what the kind of misty profundity that Alfred North Whitehead suggested was an indication of nonsense.

Still, I was evidently interested enough to respond (it quoted @alexbellos as having enjoyed it, and I’m a sucker for social proof) and, once my own books were out of the way, give it a chance.

I’m surprisingly glad I did: Watkins takes the reader into the number system in an accessible and entirely readable way. With inventive illustrations as an aid, he comes up with analogies for tricky concepts (sprites play golf to show what the graph of a function is – which sounds odder than it is).

In a sense, I’m not the audience for the book – it’s written for the lay reader, and studiously avoids mathematical language as much as possible, and equations almost entirely – which, for me, made it trickier to read rather than easier, and for me, it was slightly slow going. For most lay readers, though, I’d imagine that the gentle pace was a benefit rather than a difficulty.

So, in summary, it’s good! I learned something about the distribution of prime numbers, and got plenty of ideas for teaching hard ideas. If you’re not me ((and, in likelihood, you’re not)), I think you’ll learn plenty about the number system and how it fits together.