The Number Devil

Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Review by: Alannah McGregor

In this fantastical journey through a boy’s dreams, we encounter a Number Devil who shares what seems like magic in everyday number patterns. The author, a German poet (not a mathematician), wanted to inspire older children and adults alike with this easy to read novel. The book takes us to a dream world where numbers are written in clouds and the Number Devil makes learning math fun. Factorials, Fibonacci numbers, Imaginary numbers, all explained with easy terms. A helpful glossary in the back of the book makes transferring knowledge from the novel to the classroom simple for educators and students. Enzensberger aimed to make learning mathematics more fun after feeling frustrated by the way it was taught in schools. Inspired by his own daughter, he uses his poetic flair and dry sense of humour to appeal to a wide audience of people who may have apprehensions about math. His main character Robert, who despises math class, is one that many can identify with.

This book is useful in sparking discussion about math and having fun with the endless patterns we can find in numbers. However, a weakness is that the book itself doesn’t explain the significance of these patterns and how they can be used to solve problems in the real world. Teachers can use the book to introduce ideas and then add supplementing activities to explore them further. Educators can also use the novel to talk about mathematicians, numbers in nature, and the history of numbers.

I think it is an easy read for both older children and adults but feel it is not entirely educational unless the reader or a teacher extends the ideas presented. I worry that the simplistic terms used in the book could be confusing to students if they don’t make it to the end of the novel where it clarifies that they are not the correct math terms. With that in mind, the book would make an excellent tool and read aloud in a middle school or high school classroom.