The Mystery of Numbers

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Mystery of Numbers by Annemarie Schimmel.

Schimmel The Mystery of Numbers

The Mystery of Numbers was developed by Annemarie Schimmel from an earlier text in German by Franz Carl Endres. Presumably, Schimmel’s version (for publisher Ulf Diedrichs) was originally in German also. No translator is credited here, but Miriam Rosen was the editor, whether in English or German is unclear. Schimmel uses “components” (e.g. on page 14) to mean factors, which is a little confusing in US mathematical idiom, and possibly an artifact of translation from German. German folklore and poetry does loom a little large in a book that on the whole makes serious efforts to be a wide-ranging cross-cultural survey. 

There are seven chapters of “Introduction” discussing the history of number systems and evolution of number symbolism. Generally, depth is sacrificed for breadth, in an effort to touch on systems throughout Western history, and also in Asia and pre-Columbian America. The historical essays are followed by “A Little Dictionary of Numbers,” organized in numerical order starting at 1. The highest value to receive an entry is 10,000, but even below 50, many numbers significant to me are not represented with their own articles, such as 23, 31, 34, and 44. 

On the whole, the book is a decent introduction to its topic, and it can be a useful supplement to other more specialized treatments.