The Googol, the Googolplex and Other Really Big Numbers: Background information when reading Jenniemae & James

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Jenniemae & James

A Memoir in Black and White

by Brooke Newman

Jenniemae & James by Brooke Newman X
Jenniemae & James by Brooke Newman
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 2011, 320 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry
Buy This Book

About this Book

The Googol, the Googolplex and Other Really Big Numbers

This article relates to Jenniemae & James

Print Review

Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real 'wow, that's big,' time... Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort of concept we're trying to get across here.
- Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Most of us can get our head around what a million looks like, but visualizing a billion, let alone a trillion can be challenging. one billion dollarsThe image to the left is what a billion dollars looks like stacked on a pallet in $100 notes. Click the image to see what a trillion dollars looks like!

But a trillion pales into numerical insignificance compared to a googol, let alone a googolplex.

What, might you ask, is a googol and why is it so called?

The story goes that prominent American mathematician Edward Kasner (1878-1955) was out walking one day with his two young nephews mulling over what to call the number 10100 (that is to say the number 10 followed by 100 zeros), when nine-year-old Milton Sirotta pipes up and suggests it be called a 'googol' (from the Latin googis meaning "a lot"). Two years later, in 1940, Edward Kasner and his colleague James R Newman (the "James" in Jennimae and James) publish Mathematics and the Imagination - a non-technical book about maths which introduces the term googol to general readers for the first time.

So, what about the googolplex? To get to grips with the googolplex we first must return to that memorable day when Kasner is out walking with his nephews. As the story goes, apparently taking barely a moment to rest on his laurels from coining the 'googol,' young Milton proposes an even bigger number to be called a googolplex (plex from the Latin to fold - i.e. comprising of many parts - which gives us words such as duplex and cineplex), which would be "one, followed by writing zeroes until you get tired." Kasner liked the name but, recognizing that his young charge maybe a tad out of his mathematical depth, pointed out that writing zeroes until you get tired isn't all that scientific. So he tidied up the mathematics to define a googolplex as 10 to the power of a googol - which, as it happens, is such a big number that you would get very tired trying to write it down; in fact you'd be dead long before getting close to writing it!

It's taken me some time to get my head around what a googol is, but thanks to Carl Sagan by way of the fine folks at http://www.procrastinators.org I think I'm beginning to get a handle on it.

For starters, this is what a googol looks like:

100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000

10 followed by a hundred zeros is certainly a big number - so big that some estimate that a googol is greater than the number of hydrogen atoms in the observable universe. But a googolpex is exponentially larger - 1 with a googol of zeros after it (or to put it another way, 10,000 x trillion x trillion x trillion x trillion x trillion x trillion x trillion x trillion).

Still not quite visualizing it? I'm not surprised! Maybe this will help: apparently, if you were to count 2 numbers a second it would take you about 1722 years to reach a googol. As for counting to a googolplex - there's a good chance the universe as we know it would have come to the end by the time you counted to that - which makes one wonder, just for a moment, did we really need a word for it?

But stop the presses; apparently there's an even bigger number coined by mathematician Ronald Lewis Graham (who, incidentally, is both past president of the American Mathematical Society and of the International Jugglers' Association), known as Graham's Number - but at this point I am totally out of my depth so am not even going to begin to attempt to describe his Very Big Number!

Incidentally, the company name Google is a misspelling of the word "Googol" by founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as described in the book The Google Story by David A. Vise.



*For the purposes of this piece we have used the American definition of a billion as one thousand million, and a trillion as a million million - other countries, including much of Europe, define these terms differently.

Filed under Medicine, Science and Tech

Article by Jo Perry

This "beyond the book article" relates to Jenniemae & James. It originally ran in May 2010 and has been updated for the April 2011 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: After Sappho
    After Sappho
    by Selby Wynn Schwartz

    "Someone will remember us, I say, even in another time."
    —Sappho, fragment ...

  • Book Jacket: City Under One Roof
    City Under One Roof
    by Iris Yamashita
    When a disembodied arm and leg wash ashore in Point Mettier, Alaska, most residents assume they ...
  • Book Jacket: We Deserve Monuments
    We Deserve Monuments
    by Jas Hammonds
    Jas Hammonds' debut young adult novel We Deserve Monuments provides a fresh look at the coming-of-...
  • Book Jacket
    Factory Girls
    by Leslie T. Chang
    Considering the articles in recent years regarding toy recalls or melamine-tainted milk ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Mitford Affair
by Marie Benedict
An explosive novel of history's most notorious sisters, one of whom will have to choose: her country or her family?

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Wade in the Water
    by Nyani Nkrumah

    A gripping debut novel of female power and vulnerability, race, and class set in a small Mississippi town in the early 1980s.

  • Book Jacket

    Moonrise Over New Jessup
    by Jamila Minnicks

    "Jamila Minnicks pulled me into pages of history I'd never turned before."—Barbara Kingsolver

  • Book Jacket

    The Nazi Conspiracy
    by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch

    From two bestselling authors, the true story of the plot to kill Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill.

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

C To T Q

and be entered to win..

Who Said...

We've heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.