Once Upon A Prime

We review the third of this year’s nominees for Book of the Year


Sarah Hart is a mathematician and the first woman Professor of Geometry at Gresham College. Once Upon a Prime  (Amazon UK, Waterstones) is her book which explores the relationship between mathematics and literature.




The book discusses over 80 books and poems. It takes you on a journey over centuries and covers the work of many, many authors. It provides a very interesting insight into the unnoticed mathematics found in the books that many people love.


As well as providing a broad overview of the structure of books and poetry, the book also narrows into the intricacies of a single sentence where a mathematical object is described. An especially interesting part of the book discusses how “choose your own adventure”-style books are created and the structure of them which is hidden to the reader.


The daily drip-feeding of information in the book makes the topics enticing. Despite having a degree in mathematics, I learnt many things from this book. This would also be a great book to introduce someone to a wide range of mathematical ideas, and reading it is low commitment – you can commit to reading one fact per day, right?


My copy of the book is already on its way to my literature-focused friend. I would recommend this book to everyone, whether they are interested in maths or not. There are bits for everyone, whether it is seeing your favourite mathematical object, or the mentioning of your favourite book. However, if you are not very-well read, beware that this book will cost you a fortune! I now want to read every single book that is mentioned by Sarah Hart and then read ‘Once upon a prime’ all over again.


You can vote for your favourite book on the Book of the Year shortlist below. The winning book will be crowned the Chalkdust Readers’ Choice. Voting closes at 1pm (BST) on Saturday 30 March.

What is your favourite book on the 2023 Book of the Year shortlist?

  • That's Mathematics by Chris Smith (91%, 277 Votes)
  • Once Upon a Prime by Sarah Hart (3%, 10 Votes)
  • How to Expect the Unexpected by Kit Yates (2%, 6 Votes)
  • Short Cuts: Maths by Katie Steckles (2%, 5 Votes)
  • Headscratchers by Rob Eastaway (1%, 2 Votes)
  • The Spirit of Mathematics by David Acheson (0%, 1 Votes)
  • The Truth Detective by Tim Harford (0%, 1 Votes)
  • The Secret Lives of Numbers by Kate Kitagawa & Timothy Revell (0%, 1 Votes)
  • A Year in Numbers by Kyle D Evans (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 303

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