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Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Paperback – May 25, 2004
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Top Customer Reviews
This is the story of the Reimann Hypothesis, the greatest unsolved problem in mathematics today. Here it is in all its glory: "All non-trivial zeros of the zeta function have real part one-half."
What on earth does it mean? Mr. Derbyshire, a gifted storyteller, takes the reader on an exhilarating journey of discovery as he painstakingly illuminates the meaning, mystery, and power of those eleven short words.
I have never taken a course in calculus and am intimidated by even moderately complex math notation. There's lots of that in this book, and I had my doubts I could get through it. But Mr. Derbyshire knows that some of his readers will have fear of flying, or only be able to fly for short distances, so he patiently breaks scary-looking formulae into bite-size pieces and gives you the general rules you need to know to digest them. He knows how to explain things with crystal clarity and easy wit. And the man knows how to turn a phrase.
Still, he does not coddle his readers, so you need to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and fasten your seat belt. This is a challenging book, no bones about it. I needed to read it twice just to get a passing feel for chunks of it. Why, you may ask, would I twice read a book I had difficulty comprehending? Because with Mr. Derbyshire's gentle urging I could glimpse the beauty and feel the deep wonder of Bernhard Riemann's hypothesis, even if it remained just beyond grasp.Read more ›
As a blessing to those of us who are not hard-core mathematicians, Derbyshire takes the approach of alternating chapters between (even numbered chapters) math and (odd chapters) people and context. This gives the effect of telling two intimately linked stories simultaneously, and keeping the reader in just a bit of suspense in each while telling the other. I found myself enjoying each of the two tales, yet impatient to see where the other was going next.
Derbyshire's style of writing is thoroughly entertaining, as well. His personality comes through as someone who is a "fan" of math. In "Peanuts", the late, great Charles Shultz has Lucy commenting to Schroeder that Beethoven couldn't have been so great, because he never had his picture on bubble-gum cards. It is apparent that if there was ever a set of mathematical gurus bubble-gum cards, Derbyshire would have been a collector. His admiration for genius only added to my enjoyment of the book.
Derbyshire directly lets you know which people he holds in high esteem. He clearly honors those with a work ethic, those with dedication to their craft, family, and faith. He almost apologetically admits his appreciation for these sympathetic characters with a style reminiscent of a sports broadcaster who is also quietly rooting for "the good guys" -- not the home team, but the high-character-quality players.Read more ›
I agree with the statement in his prologue: "If you don't understand the Hypothesis after finishing my book, you can be pretty sure you will never understand it."
When you get overloaded with math, there is plenty of historical and biographical detail to keep your attention--some physics, too. The writing is fluent and occasionally beautiful. The book's epilogue, where we say goodbye to Bernhard Riemann, is actually very moving.
And the footnotes are wonderful! This is a nonfiction book, but Derbyshire is a natural novelist, and it shows--he has made a really good story out of the Riemann Hypothesis.
Unfortunately this book is far harder to read on a Kindle than a physical copy would be. The author in explaining the mathematical concepts makes frequent use of, equations, figures and tables, often referring back to an element on a previous page. This requires one to constantly navigate back on the Kindle, which is slow due the nature of the E-ink display. Admittedly this navigation is aided by hyperlinks in the text, which allow one to view a referenced element by clicking on its underlined reference in the text. However, this still requires one to navigate the cursor to the position of the reference in the text and click on it, which can be slow. A quick way to get back to the page you were on before clicking on a hyperlink is to press the "Back" button on your Kindle.
The most bothersome aspect of the Kindle edition is that many tables in the book do not display fully on the Kindle in portrait mode (I'm using the Kindle 3rd generation, 6-inch display). In particular, the last columns of a table are often cut off. This can be remedied to an extent by switching the Kindle to landscape mode, however, I still encountered one or two tables in the book where the last column(s) were cut off in landscape mode, with seemingly no way to scroll in order to reveal their content.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is an amazingly brilliant book. The author has an ability to present very complex concepts in a an understandsble way. I cannot recommend it enough.Published 25 days ago by Vincent J Herman
Can someone tell me if he explained the card stacking problem wrong? He says the key is to think of the overhang plus next card to be moved as one unit. Read morePublished 2 months ago by winymure
Excellent book in the main. As an introduction to the Riemann Hypothesis for those with a good grasp of algebra, it is hard to fault.Published 2 months ago by Fergal Macalister
Good read, although zeta(-1) is not divergent. it is -1/12. Also I was delighted to see Alain Connes, p-adic numbers and random matrices mentioned. Nice.Published 2 months ago by gonzo
Good book - but not for browsing. Need a pad and pencil to follow this stuff - like studying.Published 2 months ago by Gregory Hallock
Excellent for the non-math types but still a heavy read, no matter what mathematicians throw at the RH to find the proof.Published 4 months ago by Mr. X
Not only is this the best math book I have read, it is the best math book I can imagine being written. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Dianne S.
This book explains what the Riemann hypothises is and how it relates to giving the number of prime numbers up to a large quantity. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Steven Baer