Frequent readers of this space will recall that I’m in western Vermont visiting with family until the end of the coming week. This morning, I’m in a small country store about a mile and a half from Dad’s place, and I’m using their wireless network to reacquaint my laptop with the Internet.
Last time I was here, I started reading one of Dad’s books, John Derbyshire’s Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics. I had planned to get a copy for myself after that visit, but I arrived here almost a year later without one, so I finished Dad’s. This is a truly remarkable book; the most amazing tidbit to my eyes is that the mathematical behavior of the functions which describe the distribution of prime numbers closely mirrors that of functions which describe the behavior of subatomic particles. Riemann’s hypothesis has fascinated mathematicians for 150 years and shows no sign of resolving soon. Derbyshire’s book is well worth your time.
Derbyshire’s book contained many glowing references to G.H. Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology, which I found on Dad’s bookshelf about three inches away from Derbyshire. Hardy was a truly remarkable figure; his book, written as he addresses his sixtieth birthday, is equal parts wistful remembrance and sad elegy for the intellectual powers which Hardy feels are waning. The Canto edition Dad has includes a foreword by C. P. Snow which is almost as long as Hardy’s essay. Together, they make for a fascinating insight into the nature of a creative scientific mind.
I’ll be back on the West Coast late Wednesday night, and back to seriously productive concerns on Friday. More then..