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One in a million

October 29, 2009 |  1:55 pm

The book "One Million" by New Yorker editor Hendrik Hertzberg is dotty. It's got thousands of dots -- tens of thousands, 5,000 dots per page for 200 pages. For the math-impaired, yes, that's exactly a million.

The dots aren't doing much of anything. They sit quietly and uniformly, tallying up a number many of us throw around easily -- here in L.A., the average home price used to hover around half a million dollars -- but which may be hard to genuinely wrap our heads around. 

To provide some intellectual handholds, Hertzberg has set up markers along the way. The smallest is at the seventh dot, marking the number of poems by Emily Dickinson that were published during her lifetime (she wrote more than 1,700). There are a few markers on each page, sometimes as disconnected as the 2006 population of Oakland (397,067), the number of times brighter the sun's outer layer is than the full moon (398,000) and the number of people in the U.S. named Adam (397,600). Other pages reveal odd connections: The number of inches in a mile (63,360) is awfully close to the miles of blood vessels found in the human body (60,760).

Hertzberg originally published "One Million" in 1970, and updated it in 1993. But while some things haven't changed -- the amount of limestone moved each of the 30 years it took to build the Great Pyramid of Cheops back around 2580 BC hasn't budged from 214,581 tons -- others have. For example, only this latest edition could include the number of books author Stephenie Meyer sold every two weeks in 2008: 843,836.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: {AndreaRenee} via Flickr