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- The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters
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78 people found this helpful

ByDavidon 25 November 2005

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!!

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!!

12 people found this helpful

ByK. Kohon 14 March 2008

It was fascinating to read about all these famous mathematicians and their backgrounds. It was great to be able to put a face, a personality and a background to an equation that I have been using for all my life, like Cauchy, Descartes, Hilbert, etc. However, his analogies about Riemann's Hypothesis were not very effective, and were very hard to get through, even though I am a mathematician. Also, the lack of an appendix at the end explaining the math of it was disappointing. I ended up skipping over the mathematical bits and just jumping to the parts where he talked about other mathematicians. Maybe I should read a history of math book instead?

ByM. Appletonon 13 June 2009

Ever since I read Simon Singh's "Fermat's Last Theorem" I had wanted a similar treatment of the Riemann Hypothesis, and here it is. RH is more difficult to get across to the general reader, but Du Sautoy has a really good stab at it.

Like "FLT", MotP doesn't restrict itself to RH itself, but considers both its history and its (often tenuous) mathematical offshoots. As such, there is some crossover with Singh's work, but Du Sautoy comes across as more enthusiastic in contrast to Singh's more formal approach; each has its advantages.

It's hard for me to comment on how well books such as these will appeal to the general reader, having done maths and further maths to A-Level and maintaining a recreational interest ever since, but this is one of Du Sautoy's great strengths: RH gets very technical VERY quickly, but MotP manages to dodge the theoretical bullets and focus on RH's colossal importance to the overall mathematical landscape.

If you liked Singh's work MotP is a very safe bet.

Like "FLT", MotP doesn't restrict itself to RH itself, but considers both its history and its (often tenuous) mathematical offshoots. As such, there is some crossover with Singh's work, but Du Sautoy comes across as more enthusiastic in contrast to Singh's more formal approach; each has its advantages.

It's hard for me to comment on how well books such as these will appeal to the general reader, having done maths and further maths to A-Level and maintaining a recreational interest ever since, but this is one of Du Sautoy's great strengths: RH gets very technical VERY quickly, but MotP manages to dodge the theoretical bullets and focus on RH's colossal importance to the overall mathematical landscape.

If you liked Singh's work MotP is a very safe bet.

ByH. Coxon 16 September 2003

I thoroughly enjoyed being taken on this journey through the Primes. Not being a mathematician myself I do not fully appreciate the details of the Riemann Hyposthesis nor am I able to visualise the 'landscape' often referred to. This however did not detract from the insight this book provided as it linked many important people and interesting events in number theory, computing, physics and e-commerce in a most fascinating way.

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ByMr. K. H. Cobbon 16 June 2016

It is difficult to write a book on maths that will satisfy every reader.Leave out most of the maths, and you have Bell's excellent Men of Mathematics. You learn a lot about the men themselves, but there is no great depth in explaining what they achieved.At the other extreme you have "Birth of a theorem." , fascinating, but the maths is beyond most people - certainly me. De Sautoy's book does a reasonable job at both extremes. Most of the maths is a couple of centuries old, but, if not gone into in depth, it left me wanting to find out more. Whether investigating the number and distribution of primes is worth doing is another matter, but if nothing else, it has given us RSA encryption.

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ByP. J. Gilberton 27 March 2015

I bought this for my son who has masters degree in Pure Mathematics. As I have never got much further than sums, I cannot give a review as I cannot understand a word of it, but he thinks it is a very good read.

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ByPeteron 28 December 2014

I should state upfront that one of the problems I had with this book was that I bought the Kindle edition which has none of the figures in the book (it does say "text only" on the description and I should have realised). It was however very frustrating to have the prose refer to "the figure below" only for the next paragraph to continue immediately afterwards. I'm not clear whether or not there is a "with figures" version available on Kindle, but if not then I would suggest that the title shouldn't be offered. One star is lost for this issue alone.

Beyond that I had a mixed feeling about the book. I studied Number theory to a Masters Degree level and in particular spent time on the Riemann Hypothesis and many of the related and / or dependent results. Indeed I had the somewhat ironic score of 120% on the Number Theory exam of my MSc finals (you had to answer 5 questions, I answered 6). Part of me felt that it would have been good to have read something like Du Sautoy's book at the time, which would have probably given me a better framework within which to understand how the material I was studying came together; which was a plus. Part of me enjoyed the historical perspectives and the way that the author intertwined the contributions of mathematicians from different eras and around the world (the most famous of these - e.g. Gauss Riemann - were obviously familiar to me, but with some I just knew them from the title of a theorem, and understood nothing about their lives); this was also a plus. The writing was OK or a bit better than that. Very good in some places, but often over-extending metaphors in others; overall neutral to positive.

The over-extended metaphors were however IMO a result of the main failing of the book; a lack of Mathematics. OK I don't have a Pure Mathematics PhD, just a lowly MSc. but even at this level I appreciate that pages of proof for one or other result is going to be pretty dry for most readers (including me). However, Du Sautoy went to the other extreme of removing pretty much all of the Mathematics. I probably appreciate more than most readers that finding a half-way house here would be rather demanding. Nevertheless, I would have liked to have seen some more room devoted to at least outlining how some of the proofs were obtained or more explicitly linking why the non-trivial zeros of ζ(x) are relevant to the distribution of the primes; this was all a bit handwavy. A second star is lost for this reason.

Obviously I wasn't expecting a Maths textbook, but neither was I expecting a tome more or less entirely devoid of Maths. I assume other readers may well have felt the same. How many people would purchase such a book without some rudimentary understanding of Mathematics after all?

Having said that, I was glad to read the book and enjoyed large parts of it. I might have been more forgiving of its other failings if the figures from the original were included; as I think most people would assume they ought to be.

Beyond that I had a mixed feeling about the book. I studied Number theory to a Masters Degree level and in particular spent time on the Riemann Hypothesis and many of the related and / or dependent results. Indeed I had the somewhat ironic score of 120% on the Number Theory exam of my MSc finals (you had to answer 5 questions, I answered 6). Part of me felt that it would have been good to have read something like Du Sautoy's book at the time, which would have probably given me a better framework within which to understand how the material I was studying came together; which was a plus. Part of me enjoyed the historical perspectives and the way that the author intertwined the contributions of mathematicians from different eras and around the world (the most famous of these - e.g. Gauss Riemann - were obviously familiar to me, but with some I just knew them from the title of a theorem, and understood nothing about their lives); this was also a plus. The writing was OK or a bit better than that. Very good in some places, but often over-extending metaphors in others; overall neutral to positive.

The over-extended metaphors were however IMO a result of the main failing of the book; a lack of Mathematics. OK I don't have a Pure Mathematics PhD, just a lowly MSc. but even at this level I appreciate that pages of proof for one or other result is going to be pretty dry for most readers (including me). However, Du Sautoy went to the other extreme of removing pretty much all of the Mathematics. I probably appreciate more than most readers that finding a half-way house here would be rather demanding. Nevertheless, I would have liked to have seen some more room devoted to at least outlining how some of the proofs were obtained or more explicitly linking why the non-trivial zeros of ζ(x) are relevant to the distribution of the primes; this was all a bit handwavy. A second star is lost for this reason.

Obviously I wasn't expecting a Maths textbook, but neither was I expecting a tome more or less entirely devoid of Maths. I assume other readers may well have felt the same. How many people would purchase such a book without some rudimentary understanding of Mathematics after all?

Having said that, I was glad to read the book and enjoyed large parts of it. I might have been more forgiving of its other failings if the figures from the original were included; as I think most people would assume they ought to be.

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ByMacAllanon 23 May 2015

Amazing book and a very good read indeed. If you like reading this is a great reason to buy it. If you like quirky maths then that is also a reason. But it is the wealth of knowledge the man puts into an obviously well loved field that holds your interest. You may come out not entirely understanding the work. But you WILL have a grasp of the issues of how we got to where we are today - and WHY prime numbers are important in every field and walk of life. If you don't believe me get yer 'and in yer pocket and find out......

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ByDr. Jeffrey J. Purcellon 7 May 2012

An absolutely fascinating and captivating book. As gripping as a thriller; had me mesmerised from page 1. Deeply challenging though never boring. Historical and contemporary quotations bring it to life.

Thoroughly recommended introduction to the beauty of mathematics.

Even the use of English language is an absolute pleasure.

I had not previously known of the work of marcus du sautoy or his publications but this opus is now my favourite read!

Jeff J Purcell PhD (Physics), FIEE

Thoroughly recommended introduction to the beauty of mathematics.

Even the use of English language is an absolute pleasure.

I had not previously known of the work of marcus du sautoy or his publications but this opus is now my favourite read!

Jeff J Purcell PhD (Physics), FIEE

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ByHalf Man, Half Bookon 25 February 2013

We use prime numbers everyday, every internet transaction uses these for security, and de Sautoy here gives us a history of the prime number, from the very early Greek mathematicians, to the modern day.

The primary focus of the book is the Reimann Hypothesis. Du Sautoy gives a very readable history of all the mathematicians who have looked at proving and trying to disprove this. Some of the maths was a bit beyond me, but I did enjoy having my brain stretched.

The primary focus of the book is the Reimann Hypothesis. Du Sautoy gives a very readable history of all the mathematicians who have looked at proving and trying to disprove this. Some of the maths was a bit beyond me, but I did enjoy having my brain stretched.

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ByDaveon 20 August 2012

The book might be fine, but the kindle edition is rubbish. Very bored of being referred to images or graphs which have not been reproduced in the electronic version, as this makes it almost impossible to follow.

It's a shame.

But don't waste your money on the kindle version.

It's a shame.

But don't waste your money on the kindle version.

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ByA customeron 3 November 2003

This book is about prime numbers and the Reimann Hypothesis (RH) that is not yet proofed. It is very well written in an easy to understand English. The mathematics covered is not demanding so there is no need for special knoledge to understand the book.

The focus of the book is on the severall mathematicians that tried to prove the RH and the way they have tried to do so. The author also explains a praticall application of prime numbers in the internet in our days.

The focus of the book is on the severall mathematicians that tried to prove the RH and the way they have tried to do so. The author also explains a praticall application of prime numbers in the internet in our days.

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byMarcus du Sautoy

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