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Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture [Paperback]

Apostolos Doxiadis
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Mar 2001

Uncle Petros is a family joke. An ageing recluse, he lives alone in a suburb of Athens, playing chess and tending to his garden. If you didn't know better, you'd surely think he was one of life's failures. But his young nephew suspects otherwise. For Uncle Petros, he discovers, was once a celebrated mathematician, brilliant and foolhardy enough to stake everything on solving a problem that had defied all attempts at proof for nearly three centuries - Goldbach's Conjecture.

His quest brings him into contact with some of the century's greatest mathematicians, including the Indian prodigy Ramanujan and the young Alan Turing. But his struggle is lonely and single-minded, and by the end it has apparently destroyed his life. Until that is a final encounter with his nephew opens up to Petros, once more, the deep mysterious beauty of mathematics. Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture is an inspiring novel of intellectual adventure, proud genius, the exhilaration of pure mathematics - and the rivalry and antagonism which torment those who pursue impossible goals.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; New Ed edition (5 Mar 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571205119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571205110
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 1.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 125,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

"Every family has its black sheep--in ours it was Uncle Petros": the narrator of Apostles Doxiadis's novel Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture is the mystified nephew of the family's black sheep, unable to understand the reasons for his uncle's fall from grace. A kindly, gentle recluse devoted only to gardening and chess, Petros Papachristos exhibits no signs of dissolution or indolence: so why do his family hold him in such low esteem? One day, his father reveals all:
Your uncle, my son, committed the greatest of sins ... he took something holy and sacred and great, and shamelessly defiled it! The great, unique gift that God had blessed him with, his phenomenal, unprecedented mathematical talent! The miserable fool wasted it; he squandered it and threw it out with the garbage. Can you imagine it? The ungrateful bastard never did one day's useful work in mathematics. Never! Nothing! Zero!
Instead of being warned off, the nephew instead has his curiosity provoked, and what he eventually discovers is a story of obsession and frustration, of Uncle Petros's attempts at finding a proof for one of the great unsolved problems of mathematics--Goldbach's conjecture.

If this might initially seem undramatic material for a novel, readers of Fermat's Last Theorem, Simon Singh's gripping true-life account of Andrew Wiles's search for a proof for another of the great long-standing problems of mathematics, would surely disagree. What Doxiadis gives us is the fictional corollary of Singh's book: a beautifully imagined narrative that is both compelling as a story and highly revealing of a rarefied world of the intellect that few people will ever access. Without ever alienating the reader, he demonstrates the enchantments of mathematics as well as the ambition, envy and search for glory that permeate even this most abstract of pursuits. Balancing the narrator's own awkward move into adulthood with the painful memories of his brilliant uncle, Doxiadis shows how seductive the world of numbers can be, and how cruel a mistress. "Mathematicians are born, not made," Petros declares: an inheritance that proves to be both a curse and a gift.--Burhan Tufail --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Apostolos Doxiadis was born in Australia in 1953 and grew up in Athens. He was admitted to New York's Columbia University at the age of fifteen after submitting an original paper to the Department of Mathematics, and did postgraduate work at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris.$$$Apart from writing, Doxiadis has made films, winning the International Center for Artistic Cinemas (CICAE) prize at the 1988 Berlin International Film Festival for his second feature film, Terirem,. He has directed for the theatre, and his translations include Hamlet and Mourning Becomes Electra.$$$His other novels are A Parallel Life (1985), Macabetas (1988) and The Three Little Men (1997).

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing - and I'm NOT overrating it ! 6 Nov 2005
(I read the English version and will strive to find the Greek version as soon as possible)
I just finished the book. I read the entire book in one sitting. It is without doubt the finest book I have ever read. I will not ramble on with the details of the plot, all I have to say is just "Buy it!". While browsing customer reviews you always see books said to be "Amazing","Fabulous" and similar adjectives but once you buy it you just think "Good". This is not the case. This is a totally honest review (I don't know if it is objective though; I liked to book far too much to be objective) and the book is, as far as I am allowed to judge a book, fantastic.
I am not a mathematician but have read similar books, like "Fermat's Last Theorem", most of which I found rather fascinating, but this book is better than all of them. If you have an interest in mathematics and/or remotely liked the aforementioned (or similar) title, you absolutely *must* buy this book.
I can't really say how I would have reacted to this book if I hated Mathematics. It is by no means a technical book in the sense that if you *hate* mathematics, you won't have to put up with it. I guess that you will definitely find the book "very good", but I cannot really guarantee that it will become your favourite book - maybe, I simply don't know.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much More than Maths 12 April 2000
By A Customer
It is difficult to imagine a reader more bored by maths than myself, or one more charmed by this novel. Firstly, the mathematics with which "Uncle Petros" is concerned is not the dull grind of calculation that blighted our schooldays, but another, more mystical, study; a quest for the underlying logic of the universe. But the story of Petros and his nephew is much more. It is a clear and lively introduction to some of the intellectual milestones of the 20th Century, a study of the gradations between ambition and obsession, a fable about the way our family stories shape us and how growing up is, in part, a process of continually reshaping these stories for ourselves (and others). To use an analogy I could not have made before reading it, the novel is itself like a great mathematical proof--spare, beautiful, and only simple on the surface.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fron start to finish, brillant. That's all. 10 April 2000
By A Customer
I have been reading for over 30 years. Before reading Uncle Petros.....I had only three books in my library which I though were keeping. I now have four. A masterpiece.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Greek Tragedy without the Gods: 4 May 2000
By A Customer
Or rather, with the gods reborn in psychological terms as our inner motivators and inhibitors.
At its simplest, this is a short, well written, light, detective story. It is a little like Sherlock Holmes, a set of stories read by Uncle Petros, with Mathematics as an environment rather than a subject.
If taken at this level it is an enjoyable read that should have a wide audience.
However, it is a multifaceted novel. For me it has its origins in Ancient Greece, its heart in the theme of 'Pride" (hubris) and is constructed in terms of Greek Tragedy, complete with protagonist (Uncle Petros) / antagonist (unnamed nephew narrator). It has all the intensity and economy needed to make a wonderful opera.
There are many allusions to the myths, philosophy and history of Ancient Greece. Pythagoras, his mathematics (especially his opinion of the number 2 and the Pythagorean idea of rules imposing limits on the unlimited) and his views on beans seem to lie behind a several of the book's images. Plato is specifically referred to and the location of much of the story in Uncle Petros's semi-rural cottage is reminiscent of the original Academy.
Of the myths, Oedipus is central: The solving of the sphinx's riddles (the second riddle, about two sisters, links with Petros's dream), Oedipus being destroyed by 'truth', his apotheosis at Colonus all have parallels in the novel.
There are references to more recent literature and other arts forms: The choice of Isolde (Wagner's Eros driven opera), as the name of Petros's only human love is typical - and Hamlet, complete with ghost, make an appearance too.
All this is treated with a light hand, there to be seen and enjoyed but not essential to understanding (unlike, for example, in TS Eliot!).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the most enjoyable mathematics 4 Dec 2006
this book is, simply put, a great read ... although it is firmly grounded on mathematics, and introduces this world to the reader, it is by no means a book you have to be scared of not understanding -- or, if you hated maths at school, be worried about not enjoying! In essence, it is a story about a mathematician (Uncle Petros) and his nephew ... but mainly about their passion for maths and a conjecture which can not be proved. The characters are vivid, almost real. The story keeps its pace throughout the book. One could read a lot more into the meaning of the story (futility of life, the old advising the young) or just enjoy it as as good story. This is the only book I have read which made me wish I had studied maths! REALLY!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I have recently enjoyed books such as Fermats Last Therom and The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. These contain interesting mathmatical concepts combined with 'real life' story. Doxiadis' book fits nicely with all the above providing an easy 'one night' read of mathmatics and fiction together.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A charming and delightful book
Fantastic novel! A real gem of a book! Great introduction to the amazing world of mathematicians and the beauty of mathematics
Published 4 months ago by Rania Sabbagh
5.0 out of 5 stars Summing up
This is an extraordinary book - a tale of obsession and persistance told with a real feel for storytelling. I know nothing about mathematics but it doesn't matter. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Jimmy P
5.0 out of 5 stars A little gem
This is a little gem of a book. Don't be alarmed by the subject - mathematics - you don't have to know about or understand the maths to enjoy the story. Read more
Published 21 months ago by M. E. Birch
2.0 out of 5 stars Uncle Petros
This book was one of the selections of our Round the World Book Group. This is the story of one man's attempt to solve a centuries old mathematical mystery. Read more
Published on 26 Nov 2010 by Mr. A. Mcinnes
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay, but not great!
This book is splattered with praise, both within its first four pages and here on
Amazon. It's a competent and well-crafted novella and an enjoyable enough read but
if... Read more
Published on 23 Jun 2010 by W. Gillies
5.0 out of 5 stars Minor Greek Tragedy. Major Problem
This engaging story deserves the maximum rating which other reviewers have given it, even though the ending is perhaps a bit predictable. Read more
Published on 28 May 2010 by Yellow Duck
4.0 out of 5 stars Inciteful and unusual
An individual capable of both advanced mathematics and writing a novel is a rare bird, and I can't think of any precedent of the novel being used as a means of telling people about... Read more
Published on 27 Oct 2009 by Keith D. Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book - even if you don't understand maths
Great book, with an interesting premiss. I had to buy this book twice as I gave my previous copy away, but so wanted to read it again. Read more
Published on 28 Aug 2009 by Marc Robertson
5.0 out of 5 stars Most captivating book I have ever read
An excellent novel, a life story built around a mathematical conjecture. It does not require any mathematical skills to read, however anyone with engineering or science background... Read more
Published on 12 Jan 2009 by EMILIOS MAKRIDES
5.0 out of 5 stars Greek tragedy in less then 200 pages about theoretical maths
Uncle Petros and Golbach's Conjecture was originally a best selling Greek novel and has now been published over 20 languages so don't get switched off by the title and subject... Read more
Published on 22 Feb 2008 by John
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