The Number Devil
The Number Devil - A Mathematical Adventure, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, begins with a young boy named Robert who suffers from reoccurring nightmares. Whether he’s getting slurped up by a giant fish, sliding down an endless slide into a black hole, or falling into a raging river, his incredibly detailed dreams always seem to have a negative effect on him. Robert’s nightmares either frighten him, make him angry, or disappoint him. His one wish is to never dream again; however, instead of the nightmares coming to a halt, his dreams take a turn for the weird. Instead of falling down holes and such, he meets the Number Devil. Using giant furry calculators, piles of coconuts, electronic glass boxes, and an endless amount of scrolling paper (just to name a few), the Number Devil introduces Robert to several different concepts of numeracy. Over the course of twelve dreams, Robert is taken further and further into mathematical theories where he eventually winds up marveling at just what numbers can do.
The first night the Number Devil appears in Robert’s dream, he is not happy. Robert was relieved to finally escape his usual nightmares, but was not happy to stumble across a little red man who only wanted to talk about numbers. The first time Robert and the Number Devil meet, the Number Devil teaches Robert that numbers do not have to be complicated. As the Number Devil taught Robert, I learned that if someone is “afraid” of big numbers, all they have to do is start with the number one and keep going (p. 15). The Number Devil explains, “If you’re afraid of [five million], all you have to do is start with 1+1... until you come to five million” (p. 15). I also learned the meaning of the word ‘indefinite’ and how it is related to the number one.
In the second dream, Robert arrives in a land of trees shaped like the number one and flies buzzing around shaped like the numbers two through nine. The Number Devil points out that there is no zero in the...
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