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4.1 out of 5 stars77
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 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!!
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on 5 October 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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on 25 February 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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on 14 July 2003
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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on 28 October 2005
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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on 22 March 2010
Excellent, well written book. The best popular book on maths I've read. The author weaves the history of maths and biographies of eminent mathematicians around the search for pattern in prime numbers. I felt the author sometimes stretched to include topics and personalities that were not that relevant to this theme, but it didn't matter because he is such a good story teller. The book is packed with fascinating details about eminent mathematicians, their eccentricities, and sometimes madness. My maths interests are mainly in its applications, and I've tended to regard pure maths research as an intellectual game, but this book made me want to revisit pure maths - particularly complex numbers. As Hadamard, one of the mathematicians featured in the book said: "The shortest path between two truths in the real domain passes through the complex domain.".
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on 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?
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on 27 July 2010
Marcus du Sautoy has succeeded in a very difficult task. He has written a book about mathematics for non-mathematicians. It's almost like watching a BBC 4 documentary. We can see Marcus walking around the haunts of various mathematicians, close-ups of portraits, and some fancy computer graphics. (Actually, I've just noticed that there is a DVD version of the book. I suspect that the DVD might be a more appropriate format.)

The book is filled with anecdotes and pen portraits emphasising the human beings and passions behind what can seem like a cold and aloof subject. Of course, Mr du Sautoy has to refer to mathematical content at times, and without actually giving us the content, all he can do is allude to it metaphorically. I've no doubt that anybody else would be hard-pressed to do a better job. There is one problem that he cannot get around though. It is the wealth of ideas and their abstract nature. They are unique individuals who devote their lives in pursuit of these rarefied abstractions. It is too rich a diet for the mathsphobe who is baffled at this very flow of ideas and why anybody should want to engage with it. Still, if anybody can convey the excitement and passion of mathematical ideas then Mr du Sautoy can. If you have any interest at all in the mathematical mind then it is worth reading this book.

(Amazingly crappy cover on my paperback edition though!)
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on 1 October 2007
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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on 30 December 2007
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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