This delightful little book is written as an imaginary conversation between Owen O’Shea and a fictional professor bearing the name of Richard Stein. The dialog is centered on revealing number curiosities, tricks, puzzles and coincidences. There is something in this book of every type of reader. Some problems are left to the reader (with answers at the end of each chapter), some are presented in the text. Some of the puzzles are difficult enough that they would appeal to the most sophisticated readers; others are rather silly, or even far-fetched, as far as numerical coincidences go.
Some of my favorite sections were the ones on palindromes and on dart and card curiosities. Who would have thought of looking for the smallest palindromic prime containing all ten digits? And although I didn’t know how to play darts, I was quickly convinced that there are lots of interesting mathematical questions that can be asked in connection with the scoring of the game.
At the same time, I have to confess that I was less impressed by some of the coincidences dealing wars and historical events, as presented with the aid of number properties. But far from being a fault of the book, this is what makes the book richer: something for every taste. In addition, all the number stories are wrapped in an appealing dialogue, peppered with humor and wit.
As part of the MAA Spectrum series, The Magic Numbers of the Professor is highly entertaining, and perfectly fulfills its purpose of appealing to a broad range of readers.
Ioana Mihaila (email@example.com) is Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Cal Poly Pomona. Her research area is analysis, and she is also interested in mathematics competitions.