In the year 2000, the Clay Institute announced that they would award one million dollars for the solution to each of seven math problems. The problems range across many fields of mathematics, and all
seven six (one was solved in 2010) have defied attempts at solutions for decades.
Author Keith Devlin provides a layman’s overview of the seven Millennium Problems. While he repeatedly regrets not going into specifics with the problems, don’t worry, he still manages to include plenty of math. We also learn the background behind each of the Millennium Problems – what was being done up until the point when mathematicians got ‘stuck’. We learn about the beginnings of topology, early number theory, and meet Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz as they develop calculus.
Why is this on our bookshelf?
The Millennium Problems is written by a Stanford mathematician, about math. My mother, bless her heart, still thinks that her son is the best math genius there is. And she had hoped that I would be able to solve at least two or three. Maybe not, but at least now when I watch the Numb3rs episode ‘Prime Suspect’ (Season 1, Episode 5), I know why a proof of the Riemann Hypothesis would be so important.
Rating (4 stars)
Personally, I think its more fun doing math, rather than reading about math.
However, once I got a feel for how the chapters were structured, this book was a lot better. I was expecting a detailed explanation of the problem, and perhaps a guide of how to solve them. Unfortunately, these being “The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles of Our Time”, a detailed explanation of the problems wouldn’t be decipherable (Devlin suggests reading the competition rules – but only if you have a graduate degree in math). Instead, we get a review of the discoveries leading up to the millennium problems– a history of math, if you will.
Devlin does have a talent for explaining and simplifying math, and his sense of humor shows throughout the book.
Read this book:
If you like math and want a million dollars.
Don't Read this book:
Without a basic math background. If you’ve never taken Calculus, expect to skip big chunks of math explanations.
Once you're done, do this:
Six of the seven Millenium Problems remain unsolved, with a $1,000,000 prize for solving each one. Time to do some math!