Category: Loved books

Loved Books: Sacred Mathematics – Japanese Temple Geometry

I don’t own books that you could call coffee table books (also I prefer coffee in cups rather than tables) but this one has the glossiest paper and a cover that looks like it has been gift wrapped.

This is a book about Sangaku ( – a topic about which I knew nothing. Reading about it briefly for the first time, I had one of those ‘how did I not already know about this!’ moments. I also, coincidentally, had money to spend on books! So I bought this as a present to myself.

The concept is/was that geometry problems or solutions to problems as a temple offering. How delightful is that! It’s symbolic but also requires personal effort, so it has many aspects of a kind of ritual sacrifice or penance (to cast in Western religious terms) but also very meaningful in other ways.

The idea of mathematics as belonging primarily with the sciences and materialist domains is a relatively new one. Sangaku is just one example of how mathematics often intersects with spiritual aspect of human inquiry as well as aesthetic ones.


Loved Books: Solaris et al

I bought this new in a bookshop in Liverpool after seeing Solaris on television. It’s a bit battered but undamaged.

Solaris is great obviously but A Perfect Vacuum is a wonderful collection of reviews of imaginary books. A Chain of Chance is an ok story about coincidence but more of an extended short story.

Loved Books: Mathematical Puzzles & Diversions by Martin Gardener

After the previous post I went hunting to see if I had still had this and amazingly I did! This was rescued from the school library when I was a teenager and they were throwing away some old books.

Unfortunately, I can’t claim much virtue here as a rescuer of unloved books because…oh dear…look at what I did:

I cut out some of the diagrams from the hexaflexagon chapter. May the book gods forgive me.

This is the UK Pelican edition of the first collection of Gardener’s columns from Scientific American.

Loved Books


A more pristine book today, which ironically has travelled less far than some. This was bought in a bookshop in the Upper Blue Mountains near Sydney (Leura? Wentworth Falls? I can’t remember – it was a day trip and I went to both places that day.)

The Hunting of the Snark is the most distilled work of Lewis Carroll, short and repeatedly hitting the highly structured nonsense.

“Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

“Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.”

There’s a precipitous feeling of the whole thing almost making sense but it never does. Less obviously whimsical than the Alice books and not as obscure as Sylvie & Bruno, it is a monument to structure over meaning.

And speaking of meaning – the unpacking of references and connections to Carroll’s life work and historical events and a whole pile of other things, is here deftly done by Martin Gardener. Gardener’s populist take on mathematics, puzzles, philosophy and the boundary of science and pseudoscience made him a likely candidate to explain Carroll’s hidden depths to a wide audience. Gardener’s Annotated Alice is a treat but I kind of like this book better.

This particular book is also something of a monument to lost books. I had some old penguin (pelican?) editions of collections of Gardener’s Scientific American columns. Now long since lost. Also a copy of Gardener’s Annotated Alice which went missing not long after I was given it.

Loved Books: Encyclopedia of Gods

This is going to be an occasional series on physical books that I love.

I don’t know if The Encyclopaedia of Gods by Michael Jordan is accurate or comprehensive but it is stuffed to the gills full of deities. I can’t remember where I bought it but it was in a secondhand bookshop that also sold some new books. I don’t which of the two this was but any wear and tear is from its journeys around the world with me. It is possible that I bought it in a bookshop within the Elephant & Castle shopping centre in South East London but I’m not sure.

It’s easy to think reference books have been made redundant by the web and Wikipedia but niether have the same capacity for browsing in a strange world that is just the right size.