An engaging, informative, and wryly humorous exploration of one of the great conundrums of all time
In 1859 Bernhard Riemann, a shy German mathematician, wrote an eight-page article giving an answer to a problem that had long puzzled mathematicians. But he didn’t provide a proof. In fact, he said he couldn’t prove it but he thought that his answer was “very probably” true. From the publication of that paper to the present day, the world’s mathematicians have been fascinated, infuriated, and obsessed with proving the Riemann Hypothesis, and so great is the interest in its solution that in 2001 an American foundation put up prize money of $1 million for the first person to demonstrate that the hypothesis is correct.
The hypothesis refers to prime numbers, which are in some sense the atoms from which all other numbers are constructed, and seeks to explain where every single prime to infinity will occur. Riemann’s idea—if true—would illuminate how these numbers are distributed, and if false will throw pure mathematics into confusion.
Karl Sabbagh meets some of the world’s mathematicians who spend their lives thinking about the Riemann Hypothesis, focusing attention in particular on “Riemann’s zeros,” a series of points that are believed to lie in a straight line, though no one can prove it. Accessible and vivid, The Riemann Hypothesis is a brilliant explanation of numbers and a profound meditation on the ultimate meaning of mathematics.
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Published April 30, 2003
by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Science & Math, History.