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Stalking the Riemann Hypothesis: The Quest to Find the Hidden Law of Prime Numbers Hardcover – April 5, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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 Wunsch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (April 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037542136X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421365
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,346,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Lester D. Taylor on July 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is another fine book on the Riemann Hypothesis that, in my view, strongly complements the volumes by John Derbyshire and Marcus du Sautoy. Readers of the book should have some prior exposure to the Riemann Hypothesis (including a basic understanding of complex variables), some understanding of linear algebra, and a modicum of understanding of quantum physics. I say this because, unlike for Derbyshire and du Sautoy, the mathematics underlying the Riemann Hypothesis are more talked about than developed. The strengths of the book are (1) the author's strong historical perspective, (2) his ability to make extremely esoteric mathematical concepts understandable (and fun!), and (3)a better discussion than provided by either Derbyshire or du Sautoy of the connection between the distribution of the zeta zeroes and the distribution of the prime numbers -- in short, why it is that the Riemann Hypothesis is viewed amongst mathematicians as being so important.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By J. Brian Watkins VINE VOICE on August 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
OK, let's just stipulate that this guy loves mathematics--me, I'm just oddly fascinated with a topic so esoteric that it takes a graduate degree just to decipher the several alphabets that have been sacrificed to the needs of mathematical symbology. It appears as though I am not alone.

However, Dr. Rockmore is staking out a different turf than the other books. His goal seems not to be geared towards explaining the difficult topics so much as giving a lay reader an introduction to the various issues that pertain to the problem of the Riemann Hypothesis. Metaphor and simile are not the best tools for describing higher mathematics. My only criticism of this book is that while it touches on everything it actually explains very little. At first, having read the Sabbagh and Derbyshire books, this was frustrating; however, it becomes clear that the purpose of this book is very different.

"Stalking the Riemann Hypothesis" is more in the nature of "Einstein's Dreams" by Alan Lightman. It is more an attempt to convey the mathematician's wonder and curiosity than an understanding of the underlying science; seen in this light, I felt the book succeeded.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Cristopher Moore on April 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Rockmore's treatment of the Riemann hypothesis does the challenging job of introducing lay readers to the Prime Number theorem, the Euler factorization, Mobius inversion, and the eigenvalues of random matrices. The history is covered beautifully, detailing the partial successes and false starts along the way. Rockmore assumes very little on the part of the reader, and if you're already familiar with the complex plane and infinite series you will read between the lines a bit (actual equations are confined to footnotes) but even mathematically-inclined readers can gain a lot from the book. I enjoyed it a great deal.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Charles Ashbacher HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Written at the popular level of mathematics, Rockmore takes the reader on a very broad journey through the land of mathematics. The journey is exclusively textual in nature, in flipping through it in retrospect; I could find only one formula, Euler's identity. There are a few images, largely to represent the actions of billiard balls when moved on non-standard tables. Therefore, all of the different areas of mathematics, from probability to matrices to number theory are presented in textual form, easier for the non-mathematician to understand but simplistic to anyone with any knowledge of mathematics.
This is a fundamental weakness in the book, for it is simply not possible to convey complex mathematical ideas effectively without the use of at least some formulas. The lay reader may end this book with some understanding of what the Riemann hypothesis is and why it is significant, but both will be very shallow.
Rockmore covers a great deal of mathematics history as he follows several mathematical trails from their beginnings to their intersection with the Riemann hypothesis. Ancients such as the Pythagoreans, Eratosthenes and Euclid put down the initial markers for some of the threads and giants such as Euclid and Gauss pick these up and create new ones.
The Riemann hypothesis is considered by most mathematicians to be the most significant outstanding problem in mathematics. It is also one of the seven millennium prize problems where a solution will earn you a million dollars. Rockmore describes a lot of mathematics, all without formulas, as he takes a complex (literally and figuratively) path to an explanation of the work that has been done. If you know some mathematics, reading this book may bore you with the simplicity and if you don't I am not sure you will exit really knowing what the problem is.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By reader on October 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the latest and we hope the last book on the

RH at least until the thing is solved. It is not

at all clear what audience the author was aiming

for but if he is afraid even to spell out such

basics as the euler product, then clearly the whole

enterprise is doomed. The first third of the book -

in which the maxim 'a picture (formula) is worth a

thousand words' is inverted - is essentially

a total loss. The only redeeming features are sections

on the connection to quantum chaos and to random matrices.

Still, considering the resources available to the author,

one expected much more.
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