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Alexander Bellos

Hi Alexander Bellos! You are a writer, broadcaster, public speaker and a journalist and you divide your time between science popularization and writing about Brazilian football. When did you feel that mathematics was something you were really interested in? How old were you at that time?
- I think when I learnt Pythagoras’s Theorem. I must have been about eight.

Did you ever consider other career paths?

- Yes. I still do. I am a writer, a broadcaster, an entrepreneur, a consultant, a mathematician, a teacher….and I hope to add more jobs to the list in the future!

Why do you find mathematics so interesting and fascinating?
- I like the way you get something for nothing.
The ideas seem so abstract and ephemeral, yet you can construct such a lot of serious knowledge.

Have you run into setbacks during your career? Were there times when your work were difficult and full of setbacks? What have you done to move on and what have you learned?
- You’re always getting knocked back.
The trick is to always maintain a curiosity about the world, and a desire to find stuff out.

Have you ever during your career felt that you are not as smart, bright and clever as everyone else?
- All the time!

What is your greatest career moment so far?
- Probably the publication of my first maths book Alex’s Adventures in Numberland and the praise it received.

What would be the ultimate math-thing to do/solve?
- I don’t know.

Did you have a role model within mathematics or science when you were young? Why did you choose this person?
- When I learned about Galois, I thought he was very cool.
Now I think he was a bit of an idiot to get killed so young!

Do you have a role model today? Who? Why this person?
- Not really

Which is your favorite book in Mathematics?
Uncle Petros and the Goldbach Conjecture is lovely. So is A History of Pi. All of James Gleick’s books are amazing. 

Which is your favorite book of all books?
- Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

What do you do in your spare time?
- Go to movies, swim, cycle, read, watch TV, cook, eat, sleep.

What are your expectations for the Sonja Kovalevsky days?
- Am interested to meet everyone and discover a bit about Sweden.

You have written five books.
Can you shortly tell us about them?

- Two are about Brazilian football and three are about maths. Alex’s Adventures in Numberland and Alex Through the Looking Glass are journalistic introductions to mathematical ideas. Snowflake, Seashell, Star is a mathematical colouring book.

What in the writing process do you find most difficult?
- When you have a blank screen in front of you and must fill it with words.

What is the most difficult thing with popular sciences?
- Maths is difficult to write about because it is so abstract, and because people understand the ideas at different speeds.

Do you have you any advice to a young person who would like to become an author?
- Read lots. And write lots. And realize it is painful for everyone!