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70 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic, beautiful book
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,...
Published on 25 Nov 2005 by David

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but flawed
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...
Published on 1 Jan 2009 by Mr. D. N. Sumption


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70 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic, beautiful book, 25 Nov 2005
By 
David (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters (Paperback)
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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but flawed, 1 Jan 2009
By 
Mr. D. N. Sumption (Sheffield, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters (Paperback)
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?

Despite all that, it was a fascinating book, a bit of a struggle to get through but I managed it (I often don't), and by the end I felt that I knew a lot more about prime numbers, number theory, the Riemann hypothesis, and just how important all of this is to cryptography and the future security (or insecurity) of the Internet.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and infuriating, 5 Oct 2004
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P. J. A. Jennings "pja_jennings" (Oxfordshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters (Paperback)
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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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bsc Mathematics, 28 Oct 2005
By 
Kimberley (Leicester, Leicestershire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters (Paperback)
I am in my third year studying towards a bsc in Mathematics i found this book an enjoyable and helpful read. I am currently researching for my dissertation on prime numbers and this book offered me an excellent historical account of theorems and research conducted! I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in mathematics as its enthusiatic narrative makes it an easy read.
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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
By 
Amazon Customer (Birmingham, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters (Paperback)
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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Fascination of Maths without the Maths, 14 July 2003
By 
Stephen M Blank (Altrincham, Cheshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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It's very difficult to write a book about a maths problem so difficult that it has resisted the efforts of Mathematiaians for nearly 150 years, but still make it interesting and intelligble to the layman. But Professor du Sautoy manages this very well. He does it by focussing on the individuals involved - larger than life characters such as Bombieri, Erdos, Hardy and the like - and making us sympathise with their goals. Riemann himself only lived to 39 so does not come alive to the same extent.
At the same time he gives sufficient description of the problem itself, and more importantly why in the "real world" it matters, so that the reader feels she / he understands it.
The understanding may fade over a few days, but the fascination and the hope that one of the "heros" wins the $1m prize for finally finding the solution, lives on.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Most of the maths is missing, 30 Aug 2010
By 
M. F. Cayley (Hampshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters (Paperback)
This is very much a journalistic take on attempts to tackle the Riemann hypothesis - one of the unproven theories about prime numbers, a theory which has wide ramifications. Marcus du Sautoy writes enthusiastically and very readably about the personalities of mathematicians who have been lured into trying to tackle the problem. But for me there is too little attempt to explain the maths, and this leaves a big hole in the book.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More about the mathematicians than the mathematics, 30 Dec 2007
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This review is from: The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters (Paperback)
It's said that for every equation you include in a book, you halve the number of readers of that book. That said, this one should be a best-seller because it includes hardly any equations at all.

I was expecting to like this, as I've experienced some of the author's presentations on the TV and I was impressed by his style. However, this book was disappointingly thin on substance.

If you're interested in mathematicians as a breed (who isn't? - we're fascinating little devils) then this book should amuse you. Sometimes it comes across as a gossip-column. For a solid history of the Riemann conjecture, however, the mathematical detail is remarkable in its absence.

I compare this book to reading a review of a symphonic work - all very well to be told it's great, but I'd much rather be hearing it.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, 1 Oct 2007
By 
Mehrdad Nourshargh (UK) - See all my reviews
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I would put this book in the same class as another excellent book called "Prime Obsession" by John Derbyshire. If you are looking for more mathematical content than I would suggest you read the book by John Derbyshire. However through his clever usage of the analogy with the music for mathematics, Marcus Du Sautoy in my opinion does a much better job of explaining in layman's terms a very complex subject area. He also does a better job of painting the historical perspective than the book by Derbyshire. In fact he does an excellent job of outlining the individual contributions of all the mathematicians involved in prime number theory and how the fight for a proof was passed on from one generation to the next.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beauty and excitement in mathematics, 26 Jan 2004
A marvellous book that describes the past and present explorers of the world of Prime Numbers and what they have found. Not only will the general reader find an understanding of the fundamental aspects of this world; but of equal importance, the enthusiasm and elegance of the presentation permits the layperson to see its beauty.
The excitement and the game is not over until all the zeros are proved to be standing in line. A book that may well ignite the spark in a budding mathematician; but also a book for anyone, of any age and background with an enquiring mind.
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