- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (Sept. 13 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743258207
- ISBN-13: 978-0743258203
- Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 2.3 x 23.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 599 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,092,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Equation that Couldn't Be Solved: How Mathematical Genius Discovered the Language of Symmetry Hardcover – Sep 13 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
The idea of symmetry has been heavily deployed in recent science popularizations to introduce advanced subjects in math and physics. This approach usually backfires—mathematical symmetry is much too difficult for most laypeople to understand. But this engaging treatise soft-pedals it in a crowd-pleasing way. The title's formula is the "quintic" equation (involving x raised to the fifth power), the analysis of which gave rise to "group theory," the mathematical apparatus scientists use to explore symmetry. Inevitably, the author's attempts to explain group theory and its applications in particle physics and string theory to a general audience fall sadly short, so readers will just have to take his word for the Mozartean beauty of it all. Fortunately, astrophysicist Livio (The Golden Ratio) keeps the hard stuff to a minimum, concentrating instead on interesting digressions into human interest (e.g., the founder of group theory, Evariste Galois, was a revolutionary firebrand who died in 1832 at age 20 in a duel over "an infamous coquette"), pop psychology (women have more orgasms when their partners have symmetrical faces), strategies for finding a soul mate and some easy math puzzles readers might actually solve. The result is a somewhat shapeless but intriguing excursion. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the second-degree, or quadratic, equation taught in algebra, scale up to the fifth-degree, or quintic, equation to grasp astrophysicist Livio's topic. Because the general solution to quintic equations opened up the study of symmetry, which itself enlightens the study of biology, music, visual art, and particle physics, Livio is loaded with story material, none more interesting than biographies of two young mathematicians: Niels Henrik Abel (1802-29) and Evariste Galois (1811-32). Prodigies both, each suffered tragically, Abel dying of tuberculosis, Galois in a duel. Relating the stories of centuries of mathematicians defeated by the quintic equation, Livio captures the brilliant intuitions of Abel and Galois, who courageously dumped the fruitlessness of previous algebraic methods and mastered the quintic through ideas subsumed into group theory. This admirable presentation of a mathematical revolution will challenge general readers but will deliver ample rewards. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
It makes mathematics more humane - showing that the significant ideas take time to mature and to be understood by the scientific community.
I recommend it to any engineering student wanting to know better the background faced by these geniuses when they discovered or created these topics.
It doesn't get five starts because it is a little confusing sometimes, getting too deep into an issue before moving to a completely different one. I had to re-read some pages back to understand where the book was going. Except for that, a very nice book on general math history.