Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Prime time for mathematics": A review of Prime Obsession by John Derbyshire, and the Music of the Primes by Marcus du Sautoy. Reviewed by W. T. Gowers, Nature, 9 October 2003.

Gowers reviews two books on the Riemann Hypothesis: John Derbyshire's Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics, and Marcus du Sautoy's the Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters. Gowers praises Derbyshire for his extremely clear explanations and for his approach of alternating between mathematical and historical chapters. But the reviewer declares the task of explaining the Riemann hypothesis to a general audience is heroic, and, actually, "impossible: to learn a subject as hierarchical as mathematics, you have to understand and digest one level thoroughly before you can move on to the next." However, Gower does find "a major and most unusual strength of the book, which even experts will enjoy, is a sort of intimacy between the author and the zeta function itself." As for du Sautoy's book, Gowers found it more obviously aimed at a broader audience: the book is "less ambitious," covers prime numbers in general, and includes many anecdotes.

--- Annette Emerson

American Mathematical Society