‘Once Upon a Prime’ finds the hidden math in literature

Sunday, May 21, 2023 - 14:32 in Psychology & Sociology

Once Upon a PrimeSarah HartFlatiron Books, $29.99 “Mathematical symbolism and metaphor are present in every kind of literature, from the humblest of fairy tales right through to War and Peace,” claims mathematician Sarah Hart. In Once Upon a Prime, she lays bare some of this hidden math and meaning in a host of poetry, novels and folklore. She starts with nursery rhymes, often rife with counting — such as “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” — showing how numbers bleed into our very first encounters with the world of words. This is not just through counting but also more subtly through the rhythms and rhyme patterns. It’s also through trebling — where a word or phrase is repeated three times, such as “Row, row, row your boat.” The number three has a special hold on Western literature and languages in general. It pervades common phrases — “Three cheers for…,” “Ready, Set, Go,” “Learning your...

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