The Man Who Counted is the most popular literary work of Malba Tahan
, published in 1937.
It tells the story of Persian mathematician Beremiz Samir, as told by Hanak Tade Maia, a traveler whom he meets as they both approach 13th-century Baghdad. Beremiz has an extraordinary gift for calculation and counting. As the duo travels, Beremiz uses his skills to settle disputes and spread the word about the importance of Mathematics as the essential Science.
The book is structured in the picaresque tradition, with several more-or-less independent stories forming the whole account. For each story there is a mathematical puzzle that is presented to the reader and solved by Beremiz (an appendix further enhances the explanation).
Among the problems, we have that of The Four Fours (on representing every number from 1 to 100 using four times the number 4), the exponential gift promised to the inventor of the game of chess by a mourning king, on dividing 35 camels by three heirs without having to cut them in fractions, etc.
Besides the Math part, The Man Who Counted is a beautiful voyage to Arabia. Arab and Muslim cultures are presented with great reverence. As Beremiz shows us, not all problems may be solved with Science. Some can only be solved in the domain of Ethics. The reader can expect to become reasonably familiar with Muslim observance, Arab customs and the political structure of the time. Editions based on the original edition are illustrated.
The Author, Malba Tahan, is actually Brazilian professor Júlio César de Mello e Souza (1895 - 1974). When he was first trying to be published, the professor noticed a bias in the editorial market in favor of foreign authors. To benefit from the bias, he created Malba Tahan, a Saudi appointed as the mayor of Medina at an early age who, having inherited great fortune, travels through most of Asia writing. His stories were then accepted for publication, as "translated" by a certain "professor Breno Alencar Bianco".
Júlio César was a pioneer in Brazil due to his didactic use of historical Math and his rejection of mechanical problem-solving. He left a vast oeuvre of which The Man Who Counted is only the most famous. As recognition to his achievements, he was given the rare (and weird) distinction of having his pen name officially recognized as his alternate name. The Man Who Counted sold more than 2 million copies in Brazil.