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The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure
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The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure

4.2 18
by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Rotraut Susanne Berner (Illustrator), Michael Henry Heim (Translator)

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The international best-seller that makes mathematics a thrilling exploration.

In twelve dreams, Robert, a boy who hates math, meets a Number Devil, who leads him to discover the amazing world of numbers: infinite numbers, prime numbers, Fibonacci numbers, numbers that magically appear in triangles, and numbers that expand without. As we dream with him, we are


The international best-seller that makes mathematics a thrilling exploration.

In twelve dreams, Robert, a boy who hates math, meets a Number Devil, who leads him to discover the amazing world of numbers: infinite numbers, prime numbers, Fibonacci numbers, numbers that magically appear in triangles, and numbers that expand without. As we dream with him, we are taken further and further into mathematical theory, where ideas eventually take flight, until everyone - from those who fumble over fractions to those who solve complex equations in their heads - winds up marveling at what numbers can do.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger is a true polymath, the kind of superb intellectual who loves thinking and marshals all of his charm and wit to share his passions with the world. In The Number Devil, he brings together the surreal logic of Alice in Wonderland and the existential geometry of Flatland with the kind of math everyone would love, if only they had a number devil to teach it to them.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Rare and glorious.” —Michael Pakenham, Baltimore Sun

“Adults who know a little about math will find this book as enlightening as younger readers will.” —Martin Gardner, Los Angeles Times

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a starred review, PW noted that "exceptionally handsome four-color illustrations and vignettes deepen the magic of this mathematically minded fantasy. For certain kinds of readers--chess players, puzzle enthusiasts--this will be a favorite." Ages 11-up. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
VOYA - Julie Hudson
This is such an attractive book that one yearns for it to be a pleasure to read. Flipping through the pages, Berner's brightly colored, clever illustrations jump out (like the devil himself), making the reader stop to view them more carefully. However, NUMBERS jump out as well-numbers in charts, in formulas, on blocks, on walls. Fair or not, YAs who are not in love with the pleasure of math are not going to put up with this book no matter how clever it is (and boy, is it ever!).

Twelve-year-old Robert is annoyed with math taught by a boring teacher who will not allow calculators in class and frankly, the number devil (who appears in Robert's dream), agrees with him. Readers can truly feel the devil's enthusiasm for the subject in the language: "The thing that makes numbers so devilish is precisely that they are simple." The excitement is catching and some credit must be given to translator Heim, who is able to carry over a great deal of humor and sarcasm from the original German text. The number devil takes Robert on a journey of magical math concepts, and just as Dorothy awakens in Kansas, Robert awakens with his mother shaking him, "If you don't get up this very instant you'll be late for school." But Robert gets to keep a souvenir to prove his dream was real-something that helps him keep and use the knowledge he has gained.

A nice "Seek-and-Ye-Shall-Find-List" that is an index of math terms and mathematicians appears in the back, along with a "Warning" page pointing out a few liberties the author has taken and correcting them. Maybe math teachers will identify sparks in students and push this book; librarians will try.

VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Will appeal with pushing, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8). 1998 (orig.

Children's Literature - Mary Sue Preissner
Our shelves are screaming for books that will captivate kids dealing with the subject of mathematics. Sadly, we will wait longer. The Number Devil is a red, horn-eared and pointy-tailed individual who visits Robert in his dreams, attempting to allay Robert's math anxiety by providing him with simple explanations to mathematical problems. Each new chapter reinforces the previous, and builds from there. The book has been printed on quality paper, and Berner's colorful illustrations are delightful to see, in addition to adding to the mathematical explanations. The comprehensive index readily sends the reader to a myriad of mathematical topics. Unfortunately, I don't see kids running to pull this off the shelves, and I can't see teachers using it as a read-aloud.

Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)
580L (what's this?)
Age Range:
11 - 13 Years

Read an Excerpt

In time Robert grew accustomed to dreaming of the number devil. He even came to look forward to it. True, he could have done without his know-it-all attitude and his temper tantrums--you could never tell when he'd blow up and yell at you--but it was better, so much better, than being swallowed by a slimy fish or sliding down and down into a black hole.

Besides, Robert had made up his mind to show the number devil that he was no fool. You have to put people like him in their place, Robert thought as he got ready for bed one night. The big ideas he has about himself--and all because of a zero. He wasn't much more than a zero when you got down to it. All you had to do was wake up and he was gone.

But to put him in his place Robert had to dream of him, and to dream of him he had to fall asleep. And Robert suddenly noticed he was having trouble doing so. For the first time in his life he lay awake in bed, tossing and turning.

"What are you tossing and turning for?"

All at once, Robert realized his bed was in a cave. There were weird paintings of animals on the stone walls, but he had no time to study them because the number devil was standing over him, twirling his walking stick.

"Rise and shine, Robert!" he said. "Today's our division day."

"Must I?" Robert asked. "You might have at least waited until I was asleep. Besides, I hate division.


"When you add or subtract or even multiply, things come out even. What bugs me about division is that you get this remainder."

"The question is when."

"'When what?"

"When you get a remainder and when you don't. That's what counts. You can tell just by looking at them that some numbers can be divided evenly."

"Right. Like even numbers, which can all be divided by two. No problem. I'm pretty good at threes as well:

9 ÷ 3

15 ÷ 3

and so on. It's like multiplying in reverse:

3 x 5 = 15


15 ÷ 3 = 5

I don't need a number devil for that. I can do it on my own."

Robert shouldn't have said that. The number devil, his mustache quivering, his nose reddening, his head growing bigger and bigger, jerked Robert out of bed.

"What do you know?" the number devil shouted. "Just because you've learned the multiplication table you think you know all there is to know. Well, you know nothing! Nothing whatsoever!"

There he goes again, thought Robert. First he drags me out of bed, then he hits the ceiling when I tell him I can do division.

"Here I come to a rank beginner out of the goodness of my heart, and no sooner do I open my mouth than he starts making wisecracks! "

"The goodness of your heart!" Robert cried. All things being equal, he would have upped and left, but how do you up and leave a dream? He looked all over the cave, but could find no way to leave.

"What are you looking for?"

"A way out."

"If you go now, you'll never see me again! I'll leave you to choke on Mr. Bockel's pretzel problems, or die of boredom in his class."

Robert knew when he was licked.

"I apologize," he said. "I didn't mean to offend you."

"Good," said the number devil, his anger subsiding as quickly as it had come. "Now, nineteen. Try nineteen. See if you can divide it without a remainder."

Robert thought and thought.

"The only way I can come up with," he said at last, "is to divide it by nineteen. Or into nineteen equal parts."

"Doesn't count," the number devil replied. "It's too easy."

"Or divide it by zero."

"Out of the question."

"Out of the question? Why?"

"Because it's forbidden. Dividing by zero is strictly forbidden."

"What if I did it anyway?"

"Then all mathematics would come apart at the seams!"

He was about to lose his temper again, but he managed to pull himself together.

"Tell me," said the number devil, what would you get if you divided nineteen by zero?"

"I don't know. A hundred, maybe. Or zero. Or anything in between."

"But didn't you say when you were talking about the threes that division was like multiplying in reverse? If that's the case, then

3 x 5 = 15

means that

15 ÷ 3 = 5

Well, now try that with nineteen and zero."

"Nineteen divided by zero is, say, 19. "

And in reverse?"

"19 times zero ... 19 times zero ... is zero."

"You see? And no matter what number you take, you always get zero. Which means you must never divide a number by zero."

"Okay," said Robert, "I give up. But what do we do with the nineteen? No matter what number I divide it by--two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine--I get stuck with a remainder."

"Come a little closer," said the number devil to Robert, "and I'll tell you a secret." Robert leaned so close to the number devil that his mustache tickled his ear.

"There are two types of numbers," he whispered. "The garden variety, which can be divided evenly, and the rest, which cannot. I much prefer the latter. You know why? Because they're such prima donnas. From the very first they've caused mathematicians no end of trouble. Wonderful numbers those! Like eleven, thirteen, or seventeen."

Robert couldn't get over how blissful the number devil looked. He might have had a piece of chocolate melting in his mouth.

Meet the Author

Hans Magnus Enzensberger is the author of many highly lauded books, including Civil Wars: From L.A. to Bosnia. He lives in Munich.

Rotraut Susanne Berner is an illustrator who lives in Heidelberg.

Michael Henry Heim is a prize-winning translator who teaches at UCLA.

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The Number Devil : A Mathematical Adventure 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
M.A. I had to read this book for a math project and i thought it was very nice. It is a very short book but it is very funny and easy to read. In this bok a boy has trouble with his math at school and he needs help desperatley. At night he meets the number devil in a weird dream. In that night he teaches the boy about basic math, and night after night the number devil comes backs teaching him proggressivley harder things.By the end he is leaner fairly confusing things, but the book explains them very well. I really liked the pictures and drawings in this book. They were very creative and very accurate descriptions of the book. they helped me very well to understand the book better. I was able to finish this book in one night and complete a whole project on it. I highly advise you to read this book. If you ever need help with math or just want to read a good, funny book, then this is the one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was OK. It is about a boy named robert who hates math and suck at it too. He starts having a dream about a number devil. Baisicly he just teaches robet math. That is all he doese for twelve whole chapters. Also i was assined this for sumer reading and i allready knew this stuff, and the plot was just very babyish. Do not get this book unless you are asignned.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was ok but after a while it keeps doing the same thing it is getting old
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Number Devil is a really good. It had good illistrations and was really funny.
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DAL123 More than 1 year ago
Dallas Grant Mrs. Lasley 5B 8 April 2011 Book Review The book, The Number Devil, by Hans Magnus Enzenburger is about a boy struggling in math class. Once he goes to sleep, he has dreams about a number devil that helps him learn math. The book is pretty good to me because I struggle in algebra at times. The author does a good job by showing different illustrations of math problems to Robert. This book shows a lot of imagination to help you understand math. It helps students to develop a direct and fun approach about math. The number devil never gives up on Robert to understand the concepts of math. The ending is great because the dinner and the teacher's reactions are excellent by rewarding Robert at the end. I would recommend this book to middle school students and give this book an excellent rating. I like the book because it has interesting settings and conflicts throughout the book for a reader that's going through a struggle in math.
Mary_Kate_Shannon More than 1 year ago
I, quite honestly did not enjoy reading this book. I was assigned this book for a math project and found it to be terribly disappointing. The book was designed to teach people about math, but it has no specified age group. The way it is set up is as a children's book, but no small child would understand the concept of the math. And then again, to be old enough to understand the math, you would be utterly bored by the plot. Speaking of the plot, there hardly is one. They talk math for a few chapters then eventually get back to the storyline. Another minus is how they change the names for almost every mathematical word, so if you are trying to teach someone math, they would go back to class knowing names for things completely different than what anybody else is saying. No-one would know what they were talking about. I think that this is a rough draft of a potentially good novel.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a fabulous book for students even if they do not particulalary like math. When I read it myself, I particularly enjoyed it because since I enjoy math I could follow along with what the Number Devil was saying. Adding to the mathematical benifit is the hiarious terms the number devil uses to describe different mathematical terms. My math teacher reccomended this book to me and I now read it every oppuritunity that I can. I would recomend this book to ant students whether they like math or not.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a recent graduate of cognitive science I picked up this book to have a fun read. What I got was way more than I originally thought. Hands down, this was the best book of discrete mathematics I have ever read. To anybody who has taken the subject or intends to this book will both clarify the confusing nature of the subject and make the study more enjoyable. I loved this book and strongly recommend it to anybody with or without a mathematics background.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A perfect book for a middle school math teacher. It gave me so many ideas for teaching. It was also just fun to read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book covers a lot of topics that aren't generally covered in elementary school, but could be. Despite its obvious didactic intent it is really quite delightful, and the explanations are easy to follow. At first I thought that my son, who is 12, and something of a math whiz, would be bored as he had met most of the material already, but in fact, the author managed to slip in some patterns and concepts that neither of us had met before. I doubt that this book will get math haters to love math, but if you have a kid who loves numbers this is a great book. It will show kids what mathematics is really about, unlike the usual fare that one gets in school.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was a very interesting and factual book. It is a book that is good for math lovers of all ages and a great teaching tool for those who might be struggling in math. The only problem that I had with the book is the renaming of certain mathematical terms, i.e. prime numbers are referred to as prima donnas. Otherwise this book is great!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a real good book! I really liked it and I learned alot from this book. I'm only 10 and I hate math but this book is just plain fun! :)