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In Code: A Mathematical Journey Hardcover – September 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

At 16, Flannery made worldwide headlines as Ireland's 1999 Young Scientist of the Year for her discovery and presentation of the Cayley-Purser algorithm, an innovative encryption system roughly 22 times faster than the worldwide standard RSA algorithm. She declines the "genius" label, and a method for cracking her algorithm has since been discovered, but this only makes the book more interesting and unpredictable. It's more about the journey's adventure than the destination and less about Sarah's specialness than her spirit. The mix is part memoir, part puzzle book and part mathematical exploration, with scattered bits of mathematical lore. (The heaviest math is concentrated into two chapters and the appendices, leaving the remainder easy going for the fainthearted.) The puzzle-solving approach to math cultivated by her father (and coauthor) encourages exploration, an adventurous attitude, attention to concepts more than calculations and sheer enjoyment of taking on a challenge. It's also more egalitarian than proof-based approaches, giving newcomers a more equal footing with old pros, emphasizing the process of discovery and making connections, which is more fundamental than finished proofs. All this is wonderfully illustrated by Flannery's own story of her rapidly developing interest and proficiency in cryptography, as well as by the puzzles she uses to get readers thinking and introduce some basic concepts. Other threads, running from brief descriptions of her grandparents to her father's teaching methods and her relationship to family in the face of a media frenzy, give her story added depth, warmth and humor. 8 pages of b&w photos. (June)Forecast: Workman is hoping to, and should, attract budding young mathematicians with a first printing of 35,000, a $65,000 marketing budget and an eight-city author tour.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

"I have no doubt that I am not a genius," writes Sarah Flannery, the 16-year-old Irish girl who won first place in the 1999 European Union Contest for Young Scientists. Nonetheless, her project about public key cryptography, the method used to transmit secure data over the Internet, created a media sensation. Until a security hole was discovered, some believed that Sarah's encryption algorithm could be worth millions, and she became an instant celebrity. Though her mathematician father helped write this book, Sarah's own heartfelt enthusiasm is obvious. She is breathlessly excited to get a phone call from a mathematician whose papers she has read, frustrated by the difficult math in research journals, flattered by media attention, and genuinely intrigued by the mathematics of encryption, which she valiantly explains. A particularly touching moment comes when Sarah is overjoyed to see her dad because she finally has somebody who will talk with her about mathematics. The prize-winning contest paper is included as an appendix. Despite the advanced math discussed here, this will appeal to high school and college students because the author is a very young mathematician and does a commendable job of explaining how she got interested in such an intense science project. For public and college libraries. Amy Brunvand, Univ. of Utah Lib., Salt Lake City
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Workman Publishing Company (September 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0761123849
  • ISBN-13: 978-0761123842
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #604,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Number theory is the branch of mathematics that deals with counting numbers, 1, 2, 3... Sarah Flannery, born in 1982, entered that world because her father was a mathematician. What happened to Sarah is that she entered the number theory and cryptology world at age 16 with a science project that was new and original, and was a challenge to the way prime numbers were being used in the most popular of encryption systems. She has written _In Code: A Mathematical Journey_ (Workman Publishing) about how this happened, and its aftermath (or After Math, as a final section of the book is called). It is a delight. It is a book of mathematics, it is true, but it is also an inspiring look at a girl who had an exemplary upbringing and a strong streak of intellectual curiosity.
Central to Sarah's story is the blackboard in the dining room of her home. She grew up in the shadow of Blarney Castle, she and her four brothers raised by an independent-thinking pair of parents. At meals, the blackboard would be the focal point for discussion of puzzles. She gives plenty of these for the reader to work on. Some are familiar, like, "Given a five-liter jar and a three-liter jar and an unlimited supply of water, how do you measure out four liters exactly?" Some got into more difficult concepts: "How might you determine the average earnings of a group of people in a room (at a class reunion, perhaps) without any individual's divulging his or her salary?" This second puzzle gives a clue into getting information and hiding information, a theme throughout the book. (All the puzzles are left for the reader to work on, and such work will repay effort in understanding the book, but answers are given.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By P. Wung VINE VOICE on September 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sarah Flannery is a most remarkable young woman. The story of how she approached her mathematics project and how she was able to discover the Cayley-Purser algorithm is fascinating.
Instead of giving the Reader's Digest version of the book, I will just say that she wrote the book in the same manner in which she approached her work, with a lot of vim and vigor. One can not but get excited with her as she felt her way through the mathematics and learn as she did, step by step the methods of cryptography. Not being one who is familiar with crytography per se but an amateurish afficionado of Number Theory, I found her explanations of the pertinent mathematics charming, refreshing and stimulating. Her intermittent puzzles were fun and illustrative. I recommend this for anyone wishing to inspire curious youngsters with mathematics.
The only quibble anyone could have with this book is the honesty and naivete exhibited by young Sarah, but then again, that is what is so attractive about this gem of a book that stands out amongst the jaded sea of mathematics book being cranked out by authors too cynical to be excited by the mathematical ideas they are writing about.
Be forewarned however, you must be atleast a bit amused by mathematics or you won't get the maximum pleasure out of this book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kelly McCants VINE VOICE on August 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book was such a delight to read! I'll admit, I am fascinated by mathematics, so it was right up my alley. But mathematics aside, it was still a refreshing read of stories of Sarah's youth and her family, and an entertaining account of her preparation and performance in competitions. I loved reading of how her father inspired her family to love mathematics through brain teasing puzzles and how she was enticed to want to learn more and more about the mathematics behind cryptography. She includes several puzzles that she enjoyed growing up, and those were very fun to figure out.

There are a couple chapters that are heavy on mathematics, but someone who does not enjoy this subject could easily skip over them and still enjoy the rest of the book without feeling as they are behind and in the dark. In this mathematical section she does a great job of "teaching" the concepts in a way that keeps the readers attention and curiosity peaked. I wish in my math classes I would have had a teacher with the same type of style rather than the dull non-exciting teaching that seems to be more typical!

She also gives some great history behind cryptography and the work that lead up to our cryptographic systems today. I learned quite a bit in that area.

I do recommend the book, especially if you have any type of interest in math or cyptography. It is not the dull dry read you might be used to in other math books. It is an honest account and journey told by a sincere and bright young lady. I've already passed my copy along to someone else to enjoy.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Charles Ashbacher HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
As the father of three children about to iterate into their teen years, I often cringe when I see what they view as inspiration from the media. Sometimes, I really have to press them to read books and challenge their minds. One thing that we have done for years is have what we call questions after supper is done. I ask them questions about many different things, although we concentrate on geography, history and mathematics. The mathematics questions are generally in the form of a puzzle and we have covered basic proof techniques such as the pigeonhole principle. On several occasions, they have explained the solutions to mathematics problems by citing and explaining the pigeonhole principle.

Therefore, I was overjoyed when I read this book about Sarah Flannery, who won Ireland's Young Scientist of the Year in 1999. She won it for her work in cryptography for use over the Internet and she credits much of her success to all of the puzzles that she was given to solve by her parents. Sarah is obviously a bright girl, but what is most impressive about the book is how ordinary she claims to be. Outside of her mathematical success, Sarah is very much a regular girl with normal interests. There is no hint of her being forced into mathematics and she wears a Teflon coat concerning any label equivalent to nerd.

The book is also very well written, I was fascinated by her story, even sneaking in a few pages during a session at a math conference. It is a story about success, which just happens to be in mathematics. While basic knowledge of congruences is necessary to understand everything, you will enjoy this book even if you have never heard of a congruence. Sarah's story is an inspiration to all people, it keeps your interest and you cannot help but wish her great success in her life, whatever she ultimately decides to do.

Published in Journal of Recreational Mathematics, reprinted with permission.
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