Thursday, 21 October 2010

Visualising Big Numbers

I recently read an essay by Chinua Achebe in which he described the difficulty humans have with visualising big numbers. The number one million is a good example. Millions of people or dollars are regularly mentioned by politicians and journalists, to the point where they actually don't seem that impressively big a number any longer. Achebe counters this by saying, "I sometimes startled my students by telling them that it was not yet one million days since Christ was on earth."

A new book designed by Think Studio, Hendrik Hertzberg's One Million, is another attempt to visualise this massive number. It has 1,000,000 dots, 5000 to a page, with notations showing various significant numbers. So that you can see the number made concrete.





Here are some of the interior page spreads--click for big, readable versions.



Thanks to Think's John Clifford for providing the interior page images.

6 comments:

Chasch said...

Cool, but arguably useless... So many random books out there... I wonder how they go the idea for this!

charles said...

Not useless, I think. I think showing big numbers can make for a better understanding than telling. Salaries of bankers compared to those on a minimum wage? Once upon a time, trying to explain (to some Arabic EFL students who seemed not have read Darwin) the time humans have been around relative to the lifespan of the planet, I ended up drawing a chalk line round the whole classroom and measuring off a few inches.

Ian Shimkoviak said...

well, it's beautiful as an artifact and idea, but in terms of publishing it's definitely no aspirin. There is not a sector of the public that is waiting for this book to come out... but hell, that goes for most books published today.

JRSM said...

You're probably right, but utility is not high on the list of priorities when it comes to art, really. And as Charles says, it's an interesting way of showing something people really have a hard time grasping.

Derek said...

It might have a minor market as bathroom reading for numbers geeks.

HawkZ said...

That's wild and I like it... I also don't think it's more useless than the next abstracted thought experiment. However, I do wonder if looking at a million dots is actually going to help me quantify a million dollars.

Quantity vs. quality type of thing...

Still, design wise is neat!