This is not a math book, but rather a journey through time and cultures that focuses on the place of numbers in various human systems. As such, it is entertaining, enlightening, and may even be somewhat unsettling to those who have always dismissed mysticism and numerology as bogus. Shimmel has translated and added to Franz Carl Endres's book of the same name, broadening the scope of the German original. Her introduction, which stands by itself, is a clear, concise, and interesting survey of the history of numbers and their importance to many societies. She covers everything from the origins of our Arabic numbers to modern superstitions and number games, stopping off to explore the Gnostics, mysticism, and Islam.
The author continues with a detailed description of the various meanings and symbolism associated with each individual number up to 40, and then includes assorted descriptions from 42-10,000. Each of these chapters is fascinating and includes much detail taken from religion, mythology, daily life, and scientific observation.
The book is profusely illustrated with drawings, woodcuts, and designs, and there is an exhaustive bibliography in addition to an excellent index.