From Publishers Weekly
Now that Fermat's famous last theorem has been solved, the greatest unsolved math problem is the Riemann hypothesis, which concerns the distribution of prime numbers. After the announcement of a $1-million prize for its solution in 2000, three popular books on the hypothesis appeared in 2003, of which the best is John Derbyshire's Prime Obsession
(because, contrary to conventional publishing wisdom, it gives the mathematics necessary to understanding the problem). Unfortunately, unlike Fermat's last theorem, the Riemann hypothesis is complicated; indeed, it's all but unfathomable to those without a grasp of such difficult concepts as using imaginary numbers as exponents. Dartmouth math professor Rockmore writes elegantly and makes ample use of analogy, but because he avoids equations, including the zeta function that's an essential component of the hypothesis, he can really talk only around the subject. Compared to his predecessors, Rockmore moves quickly through the history and focuses on more recent approaches to tackling the problem. Still, for all the author's earnest efforts to explain such terms as eigenvalues and Hermitian matrices, most lay readers will be left scratching their heads.
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The Riemann hypothesis, posed in 1859 in connection with Riemann's investigation of the distribution of prime numbers among integers, is the most important unsolved problem in mathematics today: it impinges not merely on almost every area of modern mathematics but on fundamental questions in quantum physics as well. Rockmore's book provides an engaging introduction to the problem and its history up to the present day, eschewing equations in favor of narrative and metaphor. While some of the resulting flights of fancy bog down in verbiage, others are clever and helpful. Rockmore explains linear transformations as views of the world's colors through the lenses of sunglasses, and he connects the Riemann hypothesis to the physics of balls and bumpers in an imagined billiard hall, "the Chaotic Cue, tucked away on a small side street in our mythical village of Quantum Chaos." Thumbnail biographies of the dramatis personae provide diversion and breathing room between passages of mathematics. This is a lively account of one of the central problems of modern science. Jared WunschCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved