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The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters [Paperback]

Marcus Du Sautoy
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Sep 2004

The paperback of the critically-acclaimed popular science book by a writer who is fast becoming a celebrity mathematician.

Prime numbers are the very atoms of arithmetic. They also embody one of the most tantalising enigmas in the pursuit of human knowledge. How can one predict when the next prime number will occur? Is there a formula which could generate primes? These apparently simple questions have confounded mathematicians ever since the Ancient Greeks.

In 1859, the brilliant German mathematician Bernard Riemann put forward an idea which finally seemed to reveal a magical harmony at work in the numerical landscape. The promise that these eternal, unchanging numbers would finally reveal their secret thrilled mathematicians around the world. Yet Riemann, a hypochondriac and a troubled perfectionist, never publicly provided a proof for his hypothesis and his housekeeper burnt all his personal papers on his death.

Whoever cracks Riemann's hypothesis will go down in history, for it has implications far beyond mathematics. In business, it is the lynchpin for security and e-commerce. In science, it has critical ramifications in Quantum Mechanics, Chaos Theory, and the future of computing. Pioneers in each of these fields are racing to crack the code and a prize of $1 million has been offered to the winner. As yet, it remains unsolved.

In this breathtaking book, mathematician Marcus du Sautoy tells the story of the eccentric and brilliant men who have struggled to solve one of the biggest mysteries in science. It is a story of strange journeys, last-minute escapes from death and the unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Above all, it is a moving and awe-inspiring evocation of the mathematician's world and the beauties and mysteries it contains.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPerennial (6 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841155802
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841155807
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,374 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marcus du Sautoy has been named by the Independent on Sunday as one of the UK's leading scientists, has written extensively for the Guardian, The Times and the Daily Telegraph and has appeared on Radio 4 on numerous occasions. In 2008 he was appointed to Oxford University's prestigious professorship as the Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science, a post previously held by Richard Dawkins

Product Description


'Du Sautoy is a contagious enthusiast, a populist with a staunch faith in the public's intelligence…he has uncovered a wealth of intriguing anecdotes that he has woven into a compelling narrative.' Observer

'He laces the ideas with history, anecdote and personalia – an entertaining mix that renders an austere subject palatable…valiant and ingenious…Even those with a mathematical allergy can enjoy du Sautoy's depictions of his cast of characters' The Times

'He brings hugely enjoyable writing, full of zest and passion, to the most fundamental questions in the pursuit of true knowledge.' Sunday Times

'A mesmerising journey into the world of mathematics and its mysteries.' Daily Mail

'A brilliant storyteller.' Independent

About the Author

Marcus du Sautoy is a fellow of Wadham College, Oxford and has been named by The Independent on Sunday as one of Britain leading scientists. In 2001 he won the Berwick Prize of The London Mathmatical Society and in 2006 gace the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. His book ‘The Music of the Prmes’ was published in 2003 to widespread acclaim.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
69 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic, beautiful book 25 Nov 2005
By David
It was Singh's "Fermat's Last Theorem" that led me to look for another book on Number Theory, and I'm very pleased I stumbled upon "The Music of the Primes". I've read a lot of popular science books, but this is definitely my favourite.
It is incredibly easy to read, and the author gets the balance perfectly right between historical information, description of individuals and circumstances, and the maths itself. I'm pleased the maths isn't covered too thoroughly - I suspect it would have left me upset that I couldn't follow it, and negatively affected the overall story. If you do feel the need, it's simple to get any information you like on the maths involved from the web - I have a print out of a very good explanation of the zeta function now tucked in the back of the book.
The subject matter is mind-blowing, and I'm appalled that I hadn't heard about it properly before. I would love to have found out about this at a younger age, and will force my own children to read it as soon as possible!!
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and infuriating 5 Oct 2004
This is a book I found fascinating and infuriating in turns. It is an excellent layman's history of number theory with particular reference to prime numbers and the Riemann zeta function. As such it is well worth the reading.
However I found that there are certain elements, more of style than anything else, that annoyed me. Most of the results are handed to us without any proof whatsoever. All right, some of these proofs would be obviously well beyond the layman, but one is described as being understandable by the ancient Greeks (who started the whole thing) so why not include it as a footnote or appendix?
Having established fairly early on that the points where a mathematical function "reaches sea level" are known as zeros, why keep reverting to the sea level analogy?
And although the underlying theme throughout the book is the apparent inextricable link between the zeta function's zeros and counting primes, the Riemann hypothesis, I could find no clear, concise statement of exactly what Riemann said.
Spanning over 2000 years, from the ancient Greeks to the 21st century, this is a book I would thoroughly recommend.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but flawed 1 Jan 2009
By Mr. D. N. Sumption VINE VOICE
The Music of the Primes by Marcus du Sautoy is an interesting look at the history of mathematical discoveries surrounding the prime numbers. It's a tough topic though, and the author's attempts to make it more palatable to non-mathematicians sometimes backfire.

The problem is that you can't fully convey the importance and beauty of prime numbers without addressing some pretty complex mathematical issues. While du Sautoy does throw in the odd equation (and I finished the book feeling rather more mathematically accomplished than when I started it) he is obviously trying to keep things as simple as possible, trying to draw in as larger readership as possible. And the result is that all too often it's very hard to grasp quite what he's talking about. I'm no maths guru (far from it), but there were times when I found myself wishing he'd added a little more maths to the book, so I could at least try to follow him. All too often though he replaced the maths with rather fragile metaphors (most frequently, referring to the solutions of an the zeta function, an equation in four-dimensional space, as finding the "points at sea level"... which just left me wondering what the sea looks like in four dimensions).

I do feel sorry for Marcus du Sautoy: simplifying a subject which has taxed mathematicians greatest brains for some 200 years is never going to be easy. Never going to be possible, even. At the same time, I couldn't help thinking that at times his writing could be better. More than once I thought "is this really the new Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science?" Du Sautoy has a much harder topic to explain than his predecessor, Richard Dawkins, but he also doesn't seem to have quite Dawkins' skill with prose. Perhaps that will come with time?
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, but could have been better... 25 Feb 2007
I really wanted this book to be as good as Simon Singh's 'Fermat's Last Theorem', and while it shares many of the same characteristics as Singh's excellent debut, for me it didn't quite match up.

Of course, there my be a couple of simple reasons why this may have been so. Firstly, the Riemann Hypothesis is a rather more conceptually difficult mathematical problem to grasp than Pierre de Fermat's simple but elusive conjecture. Du Sautoy tries to deal with this by using analogies to landscapes and music, but due to the gaps between my reading sessions, I sometimes forgot the origin of the analogical thread, which meant I had to search back through the text to 'catch up'.

The other main reason why this book was less satisfying is because nobody has yet proven Riemann's Hypthesis to be true, whereas Fermat's Last Theorem was finally proven by Andrew Wiles in the 1990's.

Lastly, the book could have benefited from a series of notes or appendices linked to the text, through which the keen reader could gain a mathematical explanation of what was being described in the text. Again, Singh's book is a beautiful example of how this should be done.

Overall though, a very good book, which I am sure I will read again.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Lack of illustrations on Kindle really hobbles the book
As a maths graduate of many years ago, I was very much looking forward to reading this book, expecting it to give me a broad brush account of parts of number theory that I missed... Read more
Published 12 days ago by Mr. Steve Lloyd
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy reading not too mathematical
A story of all the people who have tried to prove "The Riemann hypothesis" (1859) to be either true or false but failed. Read more
Published 22 days ago by B Nic Tesla
4.0 out of 5 stars Just as enjoyable as the previous book on Fermat's last theorum
An excellent summary of the history of the search for proof of Riemanns Hypothesis related in an entertaining way with details of the private lives of the major players. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ken West
3.0 out of 5 stars Pages ripped out
If a book you'd bought had all the pages with diagrams ripped out then you'd take it back, wouldn't you? Read more
Published 4 months ago by Phil Atkin
4.0 out of 5 stars Introduction to a different world
I progressed from an initial fascination with the subject to a slowly developing view that all pure mathematicians must be mad, or on the way to it. Read more
Published 4 months ago by N. W. Sanders
5.0 out of 5 stars For the geek in your life!
Geek trilled by the gift. Only suitable for maths boffins though but if you know one you wont go wrong here
Published 6 months ago by Susan White
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read book!
It was a really good book, because after reading Fermats Last Theorem I just had to read the music of the primes, and I don't regret buying this.
Published 6 months ago by hiba
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good
I studied mathematics to degree level - and particularly enjoyed number theory. This book has encouraged me to dig out my old notes and investigate further.
Published 6 months ago by MR L A BUTLER
5.0 out of 5 stars great product
very good product in good condition and it arrived on time. I would definitely recommend it for maths students and for people who love maths.
Published 8 months ago by Marek Olszta
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a book for learners!
Du Sautoy has written this book very well, however this book is not ideal for someone who wants to learn and broaden their knowledge. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Mr. Turner
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