Language & Puzzles

The Language Lover’s Puzzle Book by Alex Bellos

I very rarely recommend books. I am a shamelessly indiscriminate reader, and I am also sort of weirdly possessive about what I read, so I don’t make recommendations often. They’re either going to be too juvenile or too crass or the wrong brow (too highbrow or too lowbrow), or SOMETHING. They’re not going to fit, somehow. I’m not a book-person matchmaker! I accept that! I went to the beach for a week and I read six books (I would actually recommend three of them: The Song of Achilles, Circe, and Gone Girl), but I don’t need to really advocate for any of them. Of the six, one was truly garbage, just very badly written and not well reasoned and meh from soup to nuts. Two more were … fine. The three I’d recommend have been recommended extensively elsewhere, by people who are better at it than I am. Go read those recommendations!

But I’ve found myself actually trying to get people to read this book, The Language Lover’s Puzzle Book, by Alex Bellos. I’ve been compelled to talk to people about it. Actively! This is very unlike me! Every couple years, there’s a book that I try to force people to read, and good news everyone, this time it’s this book.

It’s a fun book. I like puzzles, and that surely plays a role. It’s also deeply educational, in a pretty tantalizing way. If you like trivia, and also being sort of forced to deduce the trivia you’re learning, then this is the book for you. The below video is actually from the book (so, fair warning). The person in the video is Alex Bellos, if that isn’t clear early on.

I’ve learned some very interesting little tidbits, like European number counting systems that aren’t base 10 (you know who you are), and a number system that was alpha-syllabic. Exciting!

The puzzles are set up with a lot of context, and then the answer section is also pretty informative. You can tell the author is really excited about the content, and there are a lot of very nerdy/dry jokes. When I describe this book to people, the universal reaction is “… oh.” And this is accompanied by a general desire to shuffle backwards, and a fervent wish that I change the subject at this point. But I don’t! I really want people to engage with this book! Sorry in advance! (no I’m not, you should read it!)

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