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In Code: A Mathematical Journey Hardcover – 20 Mar 2000
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Sarah Flannery is the Irish teenager who last year stunned the world by inventing a way of making public-key encryption much more efficient. Given that this is the underlying security technology of e-commerce, that is an achievement that many of the world's leading research laboratories would have been proud of. That it came from a modest, well-adjusted, cheerful Irish teenager is nothing short of miraculous.
In Code is the story of how she did it, and of what happened to her and her family as a result. It's an engaging, almost playful, book in which the reader is encouraged to spend lots of time working out mathematical puzzles set by the authors. This is not sadism on their part, but a cunning plot to get the reader thinking like a cryptographer. It's also a reflection of the way the Flannery family works, for it's clear that puzzle-solving is as much a part of their communal life as eating. The puzzles are interwoven with a narrative of Sarah's annus mirabilis, in which she found a stupendously clever way of easing the computational load which public-key cryptography imposes on machines. What's striking about this account is its level-headed, self-deprecating, eminently sane tone. This is a girl whose head hasn't been turned by fame. And that, in a way, is her greatest achievement.--John Naughton
At the age of 16, the author became the Irish Young Scientist of the Year with a highly innovative, speedy and secure system of encoding data on the Internet. An inspiring account of a mathematical education with many puzzles and examples it offers into cryptography and numeracy.See all Product description
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I qualify for both the above, I love maths and think Sarah has hit the level exactly right for a popular book of this kind. I was able to get all the flavour and terminology of the mathematical equipment she covered with not much more than a skim of the more technical chapters. Whereas her autobiographical chapters were also superbly written to communicate her own emotional involvement not only with her subject but also the helta-skelta jet-set world of exhibitions, competitions and presentations she has been ejected into by her school project that was slightly more successful than she expected!
I certainly intend to go back and re-read the more technical sections and take a browse at her web site. Although I have had a passing interest in cryptography for some time now, this book has achieved for me what none of the other books and magazine articles have: her description is the first I have read which has made me feel that I have really understood how public key systems actually work.
Sure it's cool to read how a 16year old managed to make such a great algorithm, but I was looking for more on the mathematical side and not so much on how she grew up. But hey ... we all have diffrent tastes (thank god).
In the first three quarters of the book Sarah describes how she became interested in Mathematics via her father's puzzles. She then takes the reader through the absolute basics of the maths behind her project, without going too much into the details of the work she did itself.
The final section of the book is about the competitions she entered (and won), and the aftermath which ensued when she became an international celebrity following the news of her breakthrough.
Sarah's youthful enthusiasm for maths comes through in practically every sentence, as does her humility regarding her own achievements.
Although it's not a very technical work, there's quite a lot of maths in the book at a very basic level, which might not suit every reader.
The flood of superlatives from handpicked sources was totally unwarranted because Miss Flannery invented nothing. I do not believe Mr Flannery is a cryptographer while also being a mathematician - the RSA cryptography was just a convenient slipstream to latch onto as a platform for the book - modelling his thoughts on Caeser shift ciphers however was a shock to the system where it happens.
Having written some powerful ciphers recently myself I tried contacting Mr Flannery to see if it might interest him but he did not do me the good manners of a reply. Other excellent writers like Simon Singh for instance (The Code Book) answered every email in the first 500 sent to him after the publication of his much superior book.
I understand Mr Flannery is now retired from Cork Institute of Technology - I think a brief email to that effect would have been appropriate. Bad manners are not becoming to academics especially.
For all that this book is still a very good read.