For my first popular science book, I spent a year travelling around the world interviewing people whose lives connected to mathematics in some way. In Reno I met the man responsible for setting the odds to more than half of the world’s slot machines, in India I sat with a holy guru to learn about zero and nothingness and in Japan I met origami artists and abacus champions.
My intention was to bring storytelling techniques I had learned in a career as a foreign correspondent to writing about mathematics. The book won prizes and became an international bestseller.
For the follow-up, I again travelled widely. This time I was interested in the links between maths and civilization: how we have embraced maths to make sense of the world, and how numbers influence the way we behave.
I visited a private detective in Portland, the member of a mathematical sect in France and I polled 44,000 people to find the world’s favourite number. Within weeks of publication the book was in the Top Ten bestseller list.
The book requires no previous knowledge of mathematics and can be read before Alex’s Adventures in Numberland with no loss of understanding. The two books are companion volumes, rather than a continuing story.
Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life (2002/2014)
I wrote Futebol when I lived in Brazil, where for five years I was the Guardian’s correspondent in South America. I travelled widely for the research – from the depths of the Amazon to the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and from Uruguay to the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic. The book is a portrait of Brazil as seen through the lens of the world’s most popular sport.
I updated the book for the 2014 World Cup with a new chapter.