Ideas about numbers, magnitudes and frequencies shape and give texture to almost everything we feel, say, dream and do. In Living by Numbers, Steven Connor explores the many ways in which we live in, and by, a world of numbers.
Connor homes in on the unsuspected weirdness of the number one, the links between horror, counting and the uncountable, and the close associations of numbers and death. He considers the way we make sense of crowds, swarms, masses and multitudes, and demonstrates the work of calculation that is always present in poems, jokes, laughter and pleasure. He shows how we use numbers to adjust ourselves to chance and uncertainty, examines the pressure of numbers in the experience of music, explains how they exert their force in painting, and reveals the many different ways in which numbers and quantities have taken visual form in diagrams, charts and infographics. Against the lazy and conventional assumption that human life needs to be defended against the alien and malign power of numbers, this book illustrates how essential the feeling for numbers is in all aspects of contemporary existence, arguing that no creativity or invention is in fact possible without numbers. Living by Numbers opens up for the first time the richness, variety and subtlety of how we do things with numbers and, just as importantly, how they do things with us.
‘Full of delights and insights for mathematicians and nonmathematicians alike . . . Living by Numbers turns the question of whether a problem might best be approached qualitatively or quantitatively on its head, suggesting that it misses the point. Instead of asking how the humanities and arts might respond to the expansion of statistics and data sciences, Connor asserts that the important questions about life – and the historical, philosophical, and artistic ways of addressing them – have always also been about numbers.’ – Science
‘Connor shows how number is essential to literary criticism, music, visual art and even to pleasure . . . It is an indication of the richness of Connor’s content that frequently I wanted more . . . Readers of this book will be mentally engaged in a dialogue with the author throughout . . . Connor is always stimulating as well as witty .’ – Times Higher Education
‘This is a book about our relationship with numbers rather than the numbers themselves, and the way they influence all spheres of human activity including art, music, poetry and literature . . . an interesting take.’ – The Tablet
‘Number is one of the fundamental dimensions of reality; to ignore it is to be color-blind, monolingual, housebound, blinkered. In this lively, good-humored, and erudite book, Steven Connor shows how an allergy to quantitative thinking has not served the humanities well, and that welcoming it in can only deepen our appreciation of art and literature.’ – Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Sense of Style
‘My favourite polymath now deconstructs anti-numerical animus within the humanities and the number magic of the statistical ideologues. Conner finds number everywhere: meter, rhythm, cycle, pattern, repetition, street numbers, PIN numbers, grids, graphs, tipping points, multitudes and the masses. His criticisms of critique notwithstanding, no humanist has thought more deeply about number in everyday life since before the rationalization of knowledge.’ – Regenia Gagnier, author of The Insatiability of Human Wants: Economics and Aesthetics in Market Society and Individualism, Decadence and Globalization: On the Relationship of Part to Whole
Steven Connor is Grace 2 Professor of English at the University of Cambridge, and the author of books on many different subjects, including The Matter of Air (2010), A Philosophy of Sport (2011) and Beyond Words: Sobs, Hums, Stutters and Other Vocalizations (2014), all published by Reaktion Books.