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Poincare's Prize: The Hundred-Year Quest to Solve One of Math's Greatest Puzzlesby George G. Szpiro
Synopses & Reviews
With a reclusive and eccentric hero, dramatic turns, and a million-dollar payoff, Poincars Prize is the stuff of great fiction. Amazingly, the story unveiled in it is true.
In the world of math, the Poincar Conjecture was a holy grail. Decade after decade the theorem that informs how we understand the shape of the universe defied every effort to prove it. Now, after more than a century, an eccentric Russian recluse has found the solution to one of the seven greatest math problems of our time, earning the right to claim the first one-million-dollar Millennium math prize.
George Szpiro begins his masterfully told story in 1904 when Frenchman Henri Poincar formulated a conjecture about a seemingly simple problem. Imagine an ant crawling around on a large surface. How would it know whether the surface is a flat plane, a round sphere, or a bagel- shaped object? The ant would need to lift off into space to observe the object. How could you prove the shape was spherical without actually seeing it? Simply, this is what Poincar sought to solve.
In fact, Poincar thought he had solved it back at the turn of the twentieth century, but soon realized his mistake. After four more years work, he gave up. Across the generations from China to Texas, great minds stalked the solution in the wilds of higher dimensions. Among them was Grigory Perelman, a mysterious Russian who seems to have stepped out of a Dostoyevsky novel. Living in near poverty with his mother, he has refused all prizes and academic appointments, and rarely talks to anyone, including fellow mathematicians. It seemed he had lost the race in 2002, when the conjecture was widely but, again, falsely reported as solved. A year later, Perelman dropped three papers onto the Internet that not only proved the Poincar Conjecture but enlightened the universe of higher dimensions, solving an array of even more mind-bending math with implications that will take an age to unravel. After years of review, his proof has just won him a Fields Medal, the Nobel of math, awarded only once every four years. With no interest in fame, he refused to attend the ceremony, did not accept the medal, and stayed home to watch television.
Perelman is a St. Petersburg hero, devoted to an ascetic life of the mind. The story of the enigma in the shape of space that he cracked is part history, part math, and a fascinating tale of the most abstract kind of creativity.
Book News Annotation:
A reclusive Russian posted the solution to one of mathematic's major puzzles on the Internet in 2003, but Grigory Perelman has yet to claim the prestigious and lucrative prizes to which this entitles him. Szpiro (a Jerusalem-based mathematician/author of Kepler's Conjecture) traces the quest to solve Poincoré's 1904 problem concerning how an ant on a large surface would know whether it was flat, a round sphere, or bagel-shaped. Notes supply details for those wishing to be more mathematically literate about its implications. Annotation Â©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The amazing story of one of the greatest math problems of all time and the reclusive genius who solved it
In the tradition of Fermats Enigma and Prime Obsession, George Szpiro brings to life the giants of mathematics who struggled to prove a theorem for a century and the mysterious man from St. Petersburg, Grigory Perelman, who fi nally accomplished the impossible. In 1904 Henri Poincaré developed the Poincaré Conjecture, an attempt to understand higher-dimensional space and possibly the shape of the universe. The problem was he couldnt prove it. A century later it was named a Millennium Prize problem, one of the seven hardest problems we can imagine. Now this holy grail of mathematics has been found.
Accessibly interweaving history and math, Szpiro captures the passion, frustration, and excitement of the hunt, and provides a fascinating portrait of a contemporary noble-genius.
In the world of math, the theorem that informs how to understand the shape of the universe has defied every effort to prove it. Now, after more than a century, an eccentric Russian recluse has found the solution to one of the seven greatest math problems of our time.
About the Author
George G. Szpiro is a mathematician and prizewinning journalist with an M.B.A. from Stanford and a Ph.D. in mathematical economics from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has taught at the of Pennsylvani‛s Wharton School, Hebrew University, and the of Zurich, and, along with a monthly popular math column, has published numerous articles. His previous book, Keple‛s Conjecture, was published in five languages to international critical acclaim.
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