Thursday's Book: The Book of Numbers by William Hartston

Thankfully, this book is more concerned with facts than mathematics. Anyone wanting to learn more about or the Fibonacci sequence should turn to the Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers, a volume which none but propeller-heads will find either curious or interesting.

William Hartston sets his stall up with zero, revealing that "No people were injured by tea-cosies in Britain in 1994 (though three had been treated in hospital in the previous year as a result of tea-cosy accidents)". He keeps pumping out the facts up to 4,985,567,071,200 - which happens to be the US national debt in dollars on 14 November 1995.

This agglomeration of random knowledge is strangely addictive. Boswell suffered from gonorrhea 17 times in his life; an elephant's heart beats 25 times a minute; a horse has 205 bones, a human 206. Some numbers are unbearably poignant: 398,671 British troops were killed in the first battle of The Somme. Others are rather dubious. Do all farts contain 7 per cent methane? Does spaghetti account for 26 per cent of pasta? Does someone really start digging a hole in Britain every 15 seconds? In the main, Hartston's numerology is wonderfully quirky: I am delighted to know that there is one heliport in Algeria (later, we learn that there are 119 airports there) and 19 stations on the Baku underground.

The early numbers lay great stress on films ("The only known film with 19 in its title is Montparnasse 19 which is about Modigliani"). Much of the movie information in this book appears to come from a database, which explains why Hartston includes a 1979 obscurity called Seven ("a gunslinger is paid $7 million by the US government to deal with gangsters") but not last year's smash-hit shocker of the same title based on the seven deadly sins.

For a book concerned with figures, Hartston occasionally shows scant regard for accuracy. De Sade did not write "100 Days of Sodom" but 120 Days of Sodom. The address of the White House is not 160 Pennsylvania Avenue but 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And there are some peculiar omissions.

Hartston doesn't mention that Aleister Crowley was the Great Beast 666, nor that the Duke of Wellington lived at No 1 London. McCartney's song "When I'm 64" is in, but not Lennon's "4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire". Despite the odd blemish, this is ideal reading for the smallest room ("the longest recorded case of constipation lasted 102 days") while you are engaged in performing your number twos.

Richard Cohen Books, pounds 9.99

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

    Maths Teacher

    £90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

    Maths Teacher

    £22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week