The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters

The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters

Paperback

By (author) Marcus du Sautoy

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  • Publisher: HarperPerennial
  • Format: Paperback | 368 pages
  • Dimensions: 128mm x 192mm x 28mm | 280g
  • Publication date: 6 September 2004
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 1841155802
  • ISBN 13: 9781841155807
  • Illustrations note: Illustrations, ports.
  • Sales rank: 37,782

Product description

The paperback of the critically-acclaimed popular science book by a writer who is fast becoming a celebrity mathematician. Prime numbers are the very atoms of arithmetic. They also embody one of the most tantalising enigmas in the pursuit of human knowledge. How can one predict when the next prime number will occur? Is there a formula which could generate primes? These apparently simple questions have confounded mathematicians ever since the Ancient Greeks. In 1859, the brilliant German mathematician Bernard Riemann put forward an idea which finally seemed to reveal a magical harmony at work in the numerical landscape. The promise that these eternal, unchanging numbers would finally reveal their secret thrilled mathematicians around the world. Yet Riemann, a hypochondriac and a troubled perfectionist, never publicly provided a proof for his hypothesis and his housekeeper burnt all his personal papers on his death. Whoever cracks Riemann's hypothesis will go down in history, for it has implications far beyond mathematics. In business, it is the lynchpin for security and e-commerce. In science, it has critical ramifications in Quantum Mechanics, Chaos Theory, and the future of computing. Pioneers in each of these fields are racing to crack the code and a prize of $1 million has been offered to the winner. As yet, it remains unsolved. In this breathtaking book, mathematician Marcus du Sautoy tells the story of the eccentric and brilliant men who have struggled to solve one of the biggest mysteries in science. It is a story of strange journeys, last-minute escapes from death and the unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Above all, it is a moving and awe-inspiring evocation of the mathematician's world and the beauties and mysteries it contains.

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Author information

Marcus du Sautoy is a fellow of Wadham College, Oxford and has been named by The Independent on Sunday as one of Britain leading scientists. In 2001 he won the Berwick Prize of The London Mathmatical Society and in 2006 gace the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. His book 'The Music of the Prmes' was published in 2003 to widespread acclaim.

Review quote

'Du Sautoy is a contagious enthusiast, a populist with a staunch faith in the public's intelligence...he has uncovered a wealth of intriguing anecdotes that he has woven into a compelling narrative.' Observer 'He laces the ideas with history, anecdote and personalia - an entertaining mix that renders an austere subject palatable...valiant and ingenious...Even those with a mathematical allergy can enjoy du Sautoy's depictions of his cast of characters' The Times 'He brings hugely enjoyable writing, full of zest and passion, to the most fundamental questions in the pursuit of true knowledge.' Sunday Times 'A mesmerising journey into the world of mathematics and its mysteries.' Daily Mail 'A brilliant storyteller.' Independent

Editorial reviews

This is a homage to mathematics, and in particular to that mysterious elite of maths known as prime numbers - for the uninitiated, whole numbers that cannot be divided exactly by two smaller numbers: 2, 3, 5 and 7 to 1,000,039 and beyond. It has to be said that if you don't already know what a prime number is, you may be baffled by large chunks of this work - written by an eminent mathematician who does have a tendency to assume readers won't be thrown by statements such as, 'Fermat had been right in his claim that the equation x^n + y^n = z^n has no solutions when n is bigger than 2.'Yet that would be a pity, because this is a fascinating work capable of offering at least a glimpse into the magical parallel universe of people who talk like that. Mathematicians are often regarded as arrogant because, according to du Sautoy, their subject has a permanence resting on the certainty of proof. Unlike scientific hypotheses, which may be moderated by new evidence or discarded altogether, mathematical proof is forever - what the ancient Greeks established about maths remains true today. So the great names of mathematics march through these pages with their reputations forever intact, never to be overruled by mathematicians of the future. And from Greeks onwards, mathematicians have been fascinated by primes. The problem is this. Primes get fewer the higher you count. There is no way of predicting the next prime to come. Yet there is no limit to the number of primes, as various intriguing thought experiments herein demonstrate. And it matters because the potential significance of primes is immense. This is a natural language - there is a species of cicada which emerges only every 17 years (17 is prime), presumably to avoid potential predators working to non-prime cycles. It has resonances with problems in particle physics, and immense practical application - computer security relies on primes, and without them modern business would collapse. And primes are a potential universal, intergalactic language - if we are ever to communicate with aliens, primes could well form the vocabulary for making contact. So mathematics' ultimate accolade will pass to the person who solves its most difficult outstanding problem: to understand how primes are distributed throughout the universe of numbers; to prove the Riemann hypothesis which proposes that there is harmony in this apparent sea of randomness. And the remarkable thing about this book, if you read it, is that if and when the discovery occurs - with who knows what ramifications for our future - you will want to know all about it. (Kirkus UK)