Is That a Big Number?

ISBN : 9780198821229

Andrew Elliott
352 Pages
156 x 234 mm
Pub date
Jul 2018
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  • An entertaining guide to the way numbers can help us understand the world
  • Demystifies the numbers and statistics we encounter
  • Full of memorable tips and tools to help us get a sense of the relative importance of things
  • Full of colourful examples and illustrations

Impressive statistics are thrown at us every day - the cost of health care; the size of an earthquake; the distance to the nearest star; the number of giraffes in the world. 
We know all these numbers are important - some more than others - and it's vaguely unsettling when we don't really have a clear sense of how remarkable or how ordinary they are. How do we work out what these figures actually mean? Are they significant, should we be worried, or excited, or impressed? How big is big, how small is small? 
With this entertaining and engaging book, help is at hand. Andrew Elliott gives us the tips and tools to make sense of numbers, to get a sense of proportion, to decipher what matters. It is a celebration of a numerate way of understanding the world. It shows how number skills help us to understand the everyday world close at hand, and how the same skills can be stretched to demystify the bigger numbers that we find in the wider contexts of science, politics, and the universe.
Entertaining, full of practical examples, and memorable concepts, Is That A Big Number? renews our relationship with figures. If numbers are the musical notes with which the symphony of the universe is written, and you're struggling to hear the tune, then this is the book to get you humming again.


Counting Numbers
What Counts?: How we get from 1, 2, 3 to "How many fish in the sea?"
Numbers in the World: How numeracy connects to everyday life
The Second Technique: Visualisation Paint a picture in your mind
Measuring Up
About the Size of it: Numbers to Quantify the Space we Live in
The Third Technique: Divide and Conquer Take one bite at a time
Ticking Away: How we measure the fourth dimension
An Even Briefer History of Time
Multidimensional Measures: Areas and Volumes
The Fourth Technique: Rates and Ratios Knock 'em down to size
Massive Numbers: Heavy-duty numbers for weighing up
Getting up to speed: Putting a value on velocity
Numbers in the Wild: Variability and Distribution
The Fifth Technique: Log Scales Comparing the very small to the very big
The Numbers of Science
Heavens Above: Measuring the Universe
A Bundle of Energy: Measuring the Spark
Bits, Bytes and Words: Measurement for the Information Age
Let Me Count the Ways: The Biggest Numbers in the Book
Numbers in Public Life
The Bluffer's Guide to National Finances
Everybody Counts: Population Growth and Decline
Measuring How We Live: Inequality and Quality of life
Summing Up: Numbers Still Count

About the author: 

Andrew Elliott grew up in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, and studied statistics and actuarial science at the University of Cape Town. He emigrated to the United Kingdom in the late 1980s to use his actuarial skills in the world of financial systems. After a spell as a management consultant, Andrew launched a series of start-up companies in financial technology, and he continues to work in this field. Frustrated by how quantitative information is presented in the media and public discussion, in 2016 Andrew started "Is That A Big Number?, a project to promote numeracy and the development of intuitive number sense.

"This book is crammed with engaging facts and figures ... The 'number' geek will gobble this book up, and many teachers will find it helpful to have a couple of copies casually to hand for students who need something extra to get their teeth into ... this is not only an informative and engaging book, it is a campaigning one as well." - Colin Johnson, School Science Review

"The writing is accessible, thoughtful and, on an interesting note, very, very positive about the role of numbers to help make informed decisions in all areas of daily life." - Alan Edmiston, Equals

"Is That a Big Number is an easy but excellent read for the person who wants to understand large numbers in context of everyday life ... A key tenet of this book is the idea of comparison: every example is stacked against a well-known fact. Every chapter ends with a list of (approximate) relations to help the reader grasp magnitudes of heights, distances, weights, and riches." - Megan Sawyer, Mathematical Association of America

"The book illustrates well that knowledge (being numerate) is power." - Adhemar Bultheel, European Mathematical Society

"Wide-ranging and highly accessible, this book is chock-full of fascinating nuggets, providing a rich source of colourful examples of numbers and how they are used. It shows how numeracy and literacy are two sides of the same coin." - David J. Hand, Senior Research Investigator and Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Imperial College, London

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