Book Review: The Music of the Primes

I just finished reading Marcus du Sautoy’s “The Music of the Primes: Searching To Solve the Greatest Mystery in Mathematics”.  If a book about a subject as dense as the Riemann Hypothesis can be described as a page-turner, this is the one.  Using analogies and metaphors, du Sautoy enables the reader to appreciate the difficulties, as well as the successes, mathematicians have experienced in trying to prove a conjecture that has defied proof for almost 200 years.  The book’s audience is the lay reader and thus, does not delve too deeply into zeta functions, imaginary numbers and quantum chaos theory.  In other words, after reading, you still won’t be equipped to find a proof of the Hypothesis and claim the $1 million Clay Millennium Prize.

Having said that, du Sautoy does provide enough information on the subject to allow his audience to get a good sense of the challenge.  Along the way, he takes the reader on a journey through the history of prime numbers, introducing an interesting cast of brilliant mathematicians, such as the prolific Leonard Euler, Carl Friedrich Gauss, the self-taught prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan, and Bernhard Riemann himself.  And interesting side-trips into the worlds of cryptography and code breaking, nuclear physics, and casino gambling probability, makes this an enjoyable and informative read.

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