Book Review: The Enigma of the Spiral Waves

The Enigma of the Spiral Waves (Secrets of Creation Volume 2)
words by Matthew Watkins, pictures by Matt Tweed

Matthew Watkins and Matt Tweed have done it again! I previously wrote a (very positive) review of Volume I—this book is just as engaging, if not more. It explains the Riemann Hypothesis—one of the biggest, most mysterious open questions in mathematics today—in great detail. But, as one might expect after reading Volume I, it remains thoroughly accessible, even to those with not much mathematical background. As a mathematical writer, I find it incredibly inspiring: it shows that with enough time and hard work, it is possible to explain very technical ideas in a way that is accessible but still detailed and accurate.

So, what is the Riemann Hypothesis? Simply put, it states that the solutions to the function

\displaystyle 0 = 1 + 1/2^x + 1/3^x + 1/4^x + \dots

(where x is a complex number) all lie along a certain line. But that makes it sound boring, like saying that a roller coaster is a mode of transport with wheels. Before reading this book, though, I didn’t know much more than that. I hadn’t the faintest idea why it is so interesting and deep, or why anyone would think that solving it would be worth one million dollars. This book explains all that and more. It turns out that the Riemann Hypothesis is intimately linked to the nature of the prime numbers, which are (still!) quite mysterious. They are defined by such a simple rule, but seem to behave so erratically! What’s going on?

Of course, there are wonderful pictures too. Even if you read it only for the awesome pictures, it’s still worth it. Highly recommended for anyone who wants a glimpse into one of the most fascinating and mysterious open questions in modern mathematics!

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One Response to Book Review: The Enigma of the Spiral Waves

  1. Michael Paul Goldenberg says:

    Just got both volumes yesterday. Started reading the first one. Thanks greatly for the tip.

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