- Paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: Plume; First Edition edition (May 25, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0452285259
- ISBN-13: 978-0452285255
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 180 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #167,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Paperback – May 25, 2004
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"Derbyshire’s attempt to take nonmathematicians into this subject had me on the edge of my seat."—Los Angeles Times
"Riemann and his colleagues come to life as real characters and not just adjectives for conjectures and theorems."—Scientific American
About the Author
JOHN DERBYSHIRE is a contributing editor for National Review, where he writes a regular column. He also contributes regularly to National Review Online and writes frequently for a number of other publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the American Conservative, the Washington Examiner, and the New Criterion. In addition to his opinion journalism, he writes on the subject of mathematics and is the author of the books Prime Obsession and Unknown Quantity. His novel, Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream, was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. A native of England, Derbyshire now lives on Long Island, New York, with his wife and two children.
Top customer reviews
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Having decided to review my (old) Physics knowledge and study The Theory of General Relativity. I chanced across this book whilst browsing Math books on this site, it was of course Riemann's name that caught my eye, since his geometry is (one of) the basis behind Einstein's previously mentioned seminal theory. The reviews made the book look interesting, but I was a bit skeptical as most Math/Science books for layman I found to be well... crap!!! Though I will immediately state an exception for Kip Thorne's excellent Black Holes etc.
This book captivated me from the get go. I liked the structure, some Math (it's mostly simply Elementary Number Theory and some really basic Analysis) alternating with some history, I learned a lot from both. I'd never studied Number Theory before and learned about a lot of mathematicians I'd never or fleetingly heard of. The tone wasn't too condescending and the Math was just about right for his task, at least until the last chapter or so.
Anyway, when I hit the proof of the Euler Equation, I read it and read it again and again and got hooked on Number Theory and started my own Prime Obsession. Now by the end of book I never fully understood what the Riemann Hypothesis truly meant or implied; this may be also due to the fact that by the end of the book I was already starting to study more Math and its Queen... Number Theory, as I'd signed up for a Masters in Maths and wanted to be fully prepared for it not having studied for a quite a few years by then. And by the end of the course I got to study Riemann's original paper. All in all it was an enjoyable few years.
Now to be honest to really understand what Riemann was up to, you do need a wee bit more Math than Derbyshire offers here, and Riemann's paper is a bit of a read as he makes a lot of assumptions on the part of the reader (he of course assumes you're a Mathematician), this makes the paper relatively short, but means you need to be up on your Complex Analysis, Elementary and Analytic Number Theory help to. We used Apostal's excellent Analytic Number Theory and I found Edward's Riemann Zeta Function to be extremely helpful too; it also has a copy of the original paper.
To conclude I highly recommend this book by Derbyshire as a great starting point to Riemann's and Number Theory in general. It was for me!
However, just as the other book, the paper quality is not so good. I feel that people tend to use good paper for textbook while bad paper for "pop" book. This is not a textbook but I hope the publisher can use better quality paper for this kind of serious pop-science book, just as most mathematics textbook.
John Derbyshire is a mathematician by training but is self admittedly not an expert on the Riemann Hypothesis and uses this to his advantage. The book does a fantatstic job of interweaving math and history and the historical process by which the distributions of primes were first noticed. The author goes through the Zeta function, the prime number theorem, Euler's insights and ends with the Riemann Hypothesis. The necessary background is covered to understand the sentance, but the author's intent is to draw the reader into the historical background that the Riemann's Hypothesis took center stage on and the mathematical actors who attempted to tackle it.
There is definitely some math in this book, and there are some areas that i was a bit lost at (due to my own lack of time and thought i suspect rather than anything due to the author). Inevitably the math behind the Riemann Hypothesis is very difficult and much of the nuances are not easily understood. The Zeta function in the complex plane does not lend itself well to vizualization and one should not trivialize the content. Nonetheless the author does a superb job of taking the middle ground and introducing math concepts slowly with steps that one can follow and takes the reader as far as possible with limited background. The way the author does this as a story of history makes the learning process interesting and consuming. Rarely do popular math books lend themselves to being approachable by expert and novice, but Prime Obsession has something for everyone and is well worth the read.