2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Hilbert Challenge: A Perspective on Twentieth Century Mathematics (Hardcover)
Gray's book somehow misses an opportunity.
Hilbert's list of the outstanding problems in mathematics, without a doubt, shaped both the mathematics and physics of the past century or so. The list of those who attempted to solve Hilbert's problems, or who became involved on its periphery reads like a who's who of both sciences.
The book itself cannot be described as for the lay reader, it presumes a knowledge of mathematics that is broad and beyond most without some formal training, though not necessarily to degree level. The book glosses over many points and casts throwaway lines about proofs which are central to its theme. Do we perhaps discern the hand of an over-enthusiastic editor, keen to keep the book within certain limits, or for a certain market? The book had the potential to be an important text on the history of its subject and missed the opportunity.
That being said it is very readable and sheds light on interesting areas. Its technique of deferring summary notes not to footnotes, but to highlighted boxes on the page works well and contributes to its overall accessibility.
At the end of the day the reader can't help feeling that the opportunity was missed, but only narrowly so. On finishing it you are left with the feeling that you are not quite satisfied and yet it is difficult to say exactly why...