Four Colors Suffice: How the Map Problem Was Solved Hardcover – Jan 1 2003
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Top Customer Reviews
"Four Colours Suffice" by Robin Wilson is precisely such a book.
This book marks the 150th anniversary of one of the most famous of all mathematical problems: How many colours are needed to colour in a map so that no two adjacent countries have the same colour?
The problem is famous for two main reasons:
(1) It is very simple to understand but incredibly difficult to solve.
(2) It was eventually solved in 1976 with computer assistance and represents the first major mathematical theorem which continues to resist any attmpet at a solution not requiring computer assitance.
The full story of how the proof finally came about has to rank as one of the most fascinating stories in the history of mathematics and Robin Wilson's account is full of interesting anecdotes and lots of humourous asides.
Wilson has gone to immense trouble to ensure that his book is both accurate and understandable to the novice. All in all a truly rewarding read for anyone with even a cursory interest in mathematics.
. . Ted Swart . .
My nitpicky thoughts that would probably never bother anyone else:
The title is deceptive. "Colors" is spelled "colour" in the actual text.
Also, the example of the shape of football was used in the text. What he meant was a soccerball. Completely different shapes come to mind.
My last nitpicky thing is on the same British/American culture line of reasoning. Apparently the Brit's use a term called "overleaf" I finally realized that he meant "on the next page" about half way through. Other than the regional differences in language, the work was presented beautifully. I plan on looking for anything else Mr. Wilson has written. I've always loved math but never really liked reading about it. This book has definitely sparked an interest in reading more like this!
As a mathematics student - and I have studied quite a lot of mathematics - it seems to me that proofs came in three kinds. There are the mind opening 'obvious' ones that are so stand-alone that once you read them there is nothing to learn. The blinkers have been lifted from the eyes and the world is a different place. Then there are the proofs that take such a lot of work to assimilate and for a long time you just don't see it. Perhaps you never really do, but you do come to accept it because the mathematics community is convinced. Then there are the proofs that even the mathematics community struggle with. The four-colour problem's proof is one of these. Consequently there is left a nagging doubt, which I gather is quite widespread amongst people far wiser and knowledgeable than me - than Mr Wilson also I suspect.
The curious thing is that a conjecture like the four-colour mapping, or Fermat's last theorem, or the conjecture that all even numbers can be made up of the sum of two prime numbers, is so powerful AND there are no counter examples available to challenge the conjecture. So why can they not be proved by some elegant insight such as Fermat claimed for his last theorem but never showed the world before his immanent death in a duel? Why can the four-colour problem only be proved by such inelegant computer-assisted means as this book describes? Perhaps Mr Wilson's greatest achievement is in exposing the doubts and dissatisfactions of the current proof of the four-colour problem despite the appearance that it may well be adequate (this goes for the proof of Fermat's last theorem too).
Most recent customer reviews
The history of the four color problem is one that illuminates much of what makes mathematics such a great topic to explore and was the first instance of a whole new movement in... Read morePublished on Sept. 10 2003 by Charles Ashbacher
One of the most famous theorems in mathematics is the Four Color Map Theorem. It is wonderfully simple to understand, and interesting to spend time doodling on. Read morePublished on April 29 2003 by Rob Hardy