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This is an inspiring book, telling the story of a young woman's introduction to, and enamourment with, of all things, mathematics. In an era where enthusiasm for the sciences is often seen as "uncool", it is delightfully encouraging to read the story of a family, and in particular the author herself, who understand both the value and the pleasure of such interests.
The book balances two quite separate elements. On the one hand there's the story of how Sarah became interested in mathematics, did an interesting science project, and got a lot of attention when as a seventeen year old Irish girl she nearly invented a powerful new cryptographic system. On the other hand there's a very clear introduction to the mathematics underlying modern cryptography, presented using a range of interesting examples, puzzles and clear explanations.
After an introduction to Sarah, her family, and the intellectual training methods of her parents, the first two thirds of the book focus mainly on the mathematical background, interspersed with regular anecdotes explaining how Sarah came to understand and use different skills and areas of knowledge. If you want an introduction to this area of mathematics you could do a lot worse than this book.
The last third of the book focuses on how she did her science project, and what happened when she won a major prize in the annual Irish Young Scientist competition, including how she and her family dealt with quite unexpected fame and media attention. What is interesting is how seriously the Irish establishment and media seem to take these things, and puts to shame the British indifference to this sort of achievement.
Finally a couple of appendixes present answers to the puzzles, and a few key pieces of mathematical background in more detail.
The book is co-written by Sarah's father David. He's a mathematics lecturer, and on the evidence of both the explanations in the book, and the way he inspired his children it appears he's a very good one. Between the father's very strong skills in presenting mathematics, and the daughter's refreshing simplicity and honesty about all that's happened to her, they make a very powerful team.
I would definitely recommend this book to any youngster interested in the sciences, or any sort of academic endeavour. I'd also recommend it to older readers, an encouraging proof that such interests have not been entirely abandoned.
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on 8 April 2000
If you are passionate about mathematics, or just enjoy a good read about personal exploits, this is a great book.
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.
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on 18 July 2000
Sarah Flannery is a very talented young mathematician whose modesty shines throughout her co-authored book "In Code". She was European Young Scientist of the Year in 1999 gained from her novel insights into the world of cryptography - the science of encrypting messages. She has baffled and bewildered scientists worldwide with her Cayley-Purser algorithm which is a promising and faster alternative method of encryption for the internet than the standards currently in use. What makes her achievements so astonishing is that she is only 18 years old.
The text is a very personal account which takes you through some of her younger memories during her childhood upbringing in her family surroundings at Blarney in Co Cork. Her father, co-author and mathematician, is her inspiration. She recalls the times when her father challenged her and her brothers to puzzles on the blackboard in the breakfast room in order to develop their interest and knowledge of mathematics. Inevitably, the book contains an element of mathematics but, in maths speak, I would say sufficient but not all that is necessary to present her ideas. It portrays an ordinary woman with an extraordinary grasp of mathematical concepts and ideas gleaned at an early age. "Ordinary" is not meant in any way to be derogatory but the book, written in a very chatty and somewhat naive and innocent style, portrays an enthusiasm from which others, and particularly young scientists, can gain inspiration. She is neither falsely modest nor patronising. It is very evident that her enthusiasm is self-generated and not, as we see too often these days in the media, particularly with young geniuses in mathematics, as a result of interest thrust and forced upon her by parental obsession.
A rather amusing section recalls a phone call she received from, Professor Ron Rivest at MIT, one of the co-investors of the RSA used as a 'standard' internet encryption tool worldwide. After receiving 147 call during the week, mostly from the media asking her to spell 'algorithm', she was reluctant to take another call as she was rushing out to an athletics club evening with her friends. She recalls feeling very nervous and humble on hearing who the caller was. After her achievements so far she has no longer any reason to feel humble.
I read the book in a single day on holiday and could not put it down. If anyone has read "The Code Book" by Simon Singh, another excellent text by a gifted science writer, then they will enjoy this light-hearted alternative. Well done Sarah!
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on 18 April 2000
Sarah Flannery has written a gem of a book. Not only are the technical explanations understandable but the account of her two year adventure is absolutely riveting. As a mathematics instructor I can only say I am very much in her debt as, having read the book, I feel I can now present many of the topics she covers in a more interesting and enlightened way to my own students. This is a book I highly recomended to both those with a mathematical bent and to those for whom math has been a curse. No one can read this book without gaining a new appreciation for numbers and a better understanding of their importance. Hats off to a very charming and intelligent young woman who I am sure will go far.
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on 10 June 2000
Sarah has written a charming, inspiring text that would be excellent reading for every secondary ed student, especially the girls! Her love of learning shines through, with just the right mix of humor and mathematics to interest and inspire the reader. Her choice to be less than rigourous with the math (she gives a website for those interested in the hard core details) makes the book accessible to a wide audience. Although the ending may be (only slightly) less than the fairy tail ending we see in the movies, she has achieved extraordinary things while keeping perspective and balance. Her story will amaze and inspire you. You go girl!
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on 22 June 2000
I gave this book 4 stars because it's not exactly what i was looking for, but the book is great belive you me. There are other books out there who is like this, starting out with nothing and then keep feeding you up, 'til you get the grip of things. (What Is Mathematics? by: Richard Courant, Herbert Robbins, Ian Stewart ISBN: 0195105192).
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).
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on 30 August 2005
I first heard of Sarah Flannery after the media hype surrounding her cryptographic algorithm a few years ago. I bought the book hoping for an insight into the workings of this young and brilliant mind. I was definitely not disappointed. The book is an enthralling read, even for someone like me with very average mathematical capability. This is an inspiring and much needed addition to the available literature on popular science. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in academic achievement and exciting human endeavour.
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on 24 February 2003
This book is probably the best introduction to Number theory and cryptography I have read. If you have studied Maths at degree level then you will probably find this book to be far too basic but for the rest of us it's superb. Sarah has managed to make an otherwise dull subject enthralling. Well done!
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on 21 April 2001
In her remarkable book, In Code, Sarah Flannery demonstrates a flair for explanation and a genius for mathematics that would be remarkable in any seasoned academic. In a sixteen-year old girl, it is nothing short of miraculous. This engaging, and rather touching story, is sprinkled with very digestible chunks of mathematics, ranging from the simple to the very complex, and some marvellous puzzles which really challenge the mind.
Sarah's beautiful writing style has drawn comparisons with other esteemed mathematical writers such as Simon Singh and Martin Rees, and justifiably so. My sole complaint with the book is the lack of description on Cayley-Purser, Sarah's algorithm, and the subject of the book. This is a fantastic book, and its combination of fascinating mathematics and an inspiring storyline is sure to interest everybody from the experienced cryptographer to the general reader.
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on 15 October 2013
I knew this book for several years. I borrowed it from the Toronto library several times. Finally, I decided to buy it to have the book at home. I'd like to introduce it to my kids to develop their interest in maths. The book is great for this purpose.
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