A Royal Society research fellow takes the Riemann Hypothesis, reputedly the most difficult of all math problems, as the focus for his lively history of number theory.

Du Sautoy (Mathematics/Oxford) begins in 1900 with German mathematician David Hilbert's famous address to the International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris, where Hilbert offered 23 unsolved problems as challenges to his colleagues. Among them was the Reimann Hypothesis, which concerns the distribution of prime numbers; it is the only one still unsolved. Greek mathematicians knew that the primes are infinite in number and distributed randomly in the set of natural numbers. Two centuries ago, Carl Friedrich Gauss offered a formula to estimate how many primes lie below any given number; in 1859, Gauss's student, Bernhard Riemann, refined that estimate, based on the incredibly complex Zeta function, but died without proving his hypothesis. With a minimum of equations and mathematical symbols, du Sautoy outlines the progress each succeeding generation has made on the problem. Along the way, readers meet G.H. Hardy and J.E. Littlewood, the twin beacons of the Cambridge math department between the world wars; Ramanujan, the self-taught Indian clerk who claimed that his ideas were given to him by his family goddess; and Atle Selberg, who survived the Nazi occupation of Norway to become a leading light at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies. Alan Turing, the father of modern computers, tried to devise a program to attack the Riemann Hypothesis; now the primes are the key to cryptography. A Boston businessman has offered a million-dollar reward for a proof, although few mathematicians seem to need additional incentive to tackle the Everest of mathematical problems. Du Sautoy keeps the story moving and gives a clear sense of the way number theory is played in his accessible text. (See Karl Sabbagh’s The Riemann Hypothesis, p. 369, which covers similar territory but spotlights current mathematicians searching for a Riemann proof.)

A must for math buffs.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-621070-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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