EPS Review #78 - The Music of the Primes

★★★

7Mar04

The Music of the Primes, by Marcus Du Sautoy, HarperCollins 2003

Du Sautoy errs on the side of readability, I suppose. I did not come away from this book with a very clear idea of how the zeros of the zeta function relate to the distribution of the primes. I learned that a great mass of mathematics assumes the truth of the Riemann Hypothesis, but do not have a feel for what that mathematics really is.

However, I did learn some dirt on the great mathematicians. Hardy (whose Mathematician's Apology I really should read) had the hots for Ramanujan. Hardy also hated growing old, and would flip mirrors over when he entered a room. He attempted suicide by pills. Ramanujan threw himself under a tube train, but survived to back to go India and die at 33 of amoebic dysentery. Gödel had hypochondria, which turned to paranoia as he aged -- he was so afraid of poisoning that he starved himself to death. Turing ate a cyanide-laced apple, Ada Lovelace died painfully of cancer at 36, and Groethendieck just went nuts -- it is rough being a mathematician.

As usual in this sort of book, the really cool stuff comes at the very end. Apparently the distribution of the prime numbers correlates somehow with chaotic quantum energy levels . Gee whiz!

There is a rave blurb from Oliver Sacks. And there is $1m for you if you prove the Hypothesis. I thought it might be the last of Hilbert's problems to remain unsolved, but that's not so.

Economist Review (this is how the book got onto my Christmas list). Du Sautoy's website The actual music is here

Scott wrote: I read this, but thought Prime Obsession was better.

Ravi wrote: Funny - I just bought this, A Mathematician's Apology and the other prime book by Sabbagh. V has been browsing The Music of the Primes, I showed him your email and we have just spent a very pleasant 15 minutes downloading fractint. Love the 1729 anecdote about Ramanujan. Have you ever read the book on Gödel etc by Hofstader?

Paul wrote: so the thermodynamics book I used in college had an intro which said

"In 1921 botzman discovered ... Five years later he would kill himself by hanging. In 1936 so and so discovered blah and just 8 short years later, he was also dead by his own hand. Now we turn to the topic of thermodynamics for ourselves".

Seriously. I'll see if I can dig it up.

Carl wrote: I would not call that music!