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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A class of its own, 18 Dec 2008
This review is from: Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics (Paperback)
I am a bit of a junkie for books on maths, revisiting my degree of 15-20 years ago. The quality varies a lot though and I am very often disappointed. This I supose is not surprising: I want not to be patronised but I also want accessibility, context (historical, personal), and some insight into the underlying beauty of the mathematics in question. But this book pushes all the right buttons.

The Riemann Hypothesis is really quite advanced - you wouldn't find much in-depth study of it in any compulsory modules of undergraduate courses. But Derbyshire brings it to life. The book is challenging but accessible, and ultimately a very fulfilling read.

I think the key to his success is the interleaving of chapters on the lives of the protagonists with those on the maths leading up to and surrounding the Hypothesis. Because an understanding of the relevant mathematics helps understand the importance of a given mathematician's life, and an understanding of historical context helps bring the maths to life, these chapters are mutually reinforcing. As such the whole is greater than the sum of the parts (I think I might just have found that 1+1>2). And because so many of the great mathematicians contributed to the foundations of number theory and analysis, and many subsequently worked on the Riemann Hypothesis itself, this book kind of doubles as a selective history of modern (from Newton) mathematics.

I can't recommend this book enough. Even for those with no background in maths, but with an enquiring spirit, there is enough here (crucially, without turgidity) to dimly comprehend the profound beauty and true mystery of maths. It makes you believe somehow in the Platonic Ideals and that those blessed with true insight get closer to them than the rest of us. I have always felt that advanced pure mathematics is as worthy an art as painting or sculpture, and the great mathematicians as worthy artists as Van Gogh etc. But because of the inaccessibility of the subject matter to the layman this great art couldn't be widely-enough shared. With more books like Prime Obsession this wrong will be righted.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 27 Jan 2010 13:41:54 GMT
Peanut says:
"As such the whole is greater than the sum of the parts (I think I might just have found that 1+1>2)."

Surely 2>1+1? ;)

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Apr 2013 02:39:56 BDT
good point!

Simon
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