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At one point in the children’s novel “The Phantom Tollbooth,” its protagonist, Milo, sets out to reach infinity. When he abandons the quest as hopeless, he is advised “Infinity is a poor place.”
“Fantastic Numbers and Where to Find Them: A Cosmic Quest from Zero to Infinity,” by Antonio Padilla, holds a different view. As the author shows, infinity can be terrifying, but it is filled with an endless amount of numbers.
This is not a book just about numbers. It is about the relationship between numbers and physics, and how the world works at both the largest and the smallest scales. The numbers Padilla examines are fantastic in two senses. They are so extreme as to challenge belief and they are so extravagant as to seem fancy. And they define how the universe works.