Pi may be the number that gets all the attention but it’s really not all that special. The Golden Mean (also denoted by the Greek letter phi) , because of its astonishing ubiquity in nature, really is. From galaxies to snail shells and flower heads, the ratio of 1:1.618 provides a model for ‘perfect growth’ and has, since its first description by Greek mathematicians around 2400 years ago, been imbued with a sense of beauty and mysticism.
Golden Meaning – Fifty-five graphic experiments is a collection of artistic interpretations of the golden mean, which range from the literal (numerical?) to the fantastical. Work inspired by Sufism, daily routines, vintage wine, and pain-free ways of slicing and enjoying a pineapple, slot between elegant, swirling geometric patterns and superficially chaotic grids.
Accompanying the introduction given by the book’s editors, Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright, about how the project came together, there’s a short introduction by Alex Bellos, Guardian writer and maths communicator, who served as advisor to the book. In a couple of hundred words Bellos briefly lays out the history of the golden mean, gives a concise description of the mathematics that lies behind it and its relationship with the Fibonnaci sequence.
One of the interpretations that most strongly captured my imagination was Golden Bars, which used the 1:1.618 ratio as the basis for flapjack recipe. Nick Crouch, the artist behind the design encourages the reader to ‘forget the number, feel the ratio’. No weights are given; it’s just a matter of figuring out the relative quantities of the ingredients for yourself. It’s the perfect mix of the tangible and the intangible. Where many of the designs focus on the geometrical beauty of the golden mean, retaining an abstract quality, this one is quite literally about taking the maths into your own hands.
Each graphical ‘experiment’ is accompanied by hundred words or so by the artist explaining their ideas and inspirations. I would recommend coming back to the artist's description after you’ve immersed yourself in each design, as figuring out exactly how the image came together and how the ratio fits into the design is 61.8% of the fun.
Golden Meaning is mixture of the clever, witty, perplexing, mundane and extraordinary. It's the best example of maths communication through art that I've read, since I was first awed by Oliver Byrne's The First Six Books of The Elements of Euclid facsimilie. (I got a luscious boxed and bound copy as a present from my very lovely wife after a visit to the British Science Museum.)
I'm (obviously) a tiny bit behind on my 52-book challenge, but it's more to do with finding the time to write the review than anything. Week 9's book was actually Mo Costandi's 50 Human Brain Ideas You Really Should Know. It's taking a bit more time to write that review for two reasons: 1. because it's about brains and that's one of my things so I'm spending a bit more time chewing things over, and 2. (and this might be a blogpost for itself) I find it much harder reviewing ebooks than physical books, regardless of the topic. It's something to do with not being able to place the ideas in a physical space or something.