Cracking the Prime Number Code

Book cover for Prime Obesession by John DerbyshireThere’s been a great deal of excitement in the math world recently, as Shinichi Mochizuki, a mathematician at Kyoto University in Japan, has recently released a 500-page proof of the abc conjecture, which proposes a relationship between prime numbers (numbers that are only divisible by themselves and 1). Mathematicians have searched for a pattern of prime numbers for centuries, and if Mochizuki’s proof holds up, it could be the greatest mathematical discovery of the century thus far.

Even if you can’t quite get your head around the math involved in such a proof, there is something both beautiful and thrilling about the search for mathematical truths. In honor of Mochizuki’s proof, here are three books for general audiences that discuss the mystery of prime numbers.

In “Music of the Primes: Searching to Solve the Greatest Mystery in Mathematics,” Marcus du Sautoy uses musical analogies to elucidate the Riemann Hypothesis and explains its implications for applications as diverse as e-banking and chaos theory. Du Sautoy also gives colorful accounts of the mathematicians who have worked on the problem, giving readers a glimpse at a world few of us ever penetrate.

Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics,” by John Derbyshire, provides both an introduction to the math behind the Riemann Hypothesis and a profile of the man behind the math, who, when he first presented his hypothesis, was merely an obscure, hypochondriac German academic.

Finally, “Stalking the Riemann Hypothesis: The Quest to Find the Hidden Law of Prime Numbers,” by Daniel N. Rockmore, includes a history of the mystery of prime numbers going back to Euclid and an explanation of the ways in which prime numbers are connected to solitaire, chaos theory and quantum mechanics.


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