The Millennium Problems: The Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles of Our Time

Overview


In 2000, the Clay Foundation announced a historic competition: whoever could solve any of seven extraordinarily difficult mathematical problems, and have the solution acknowledged as correct by the experts, would receive $1 million in prize money. There was some precedent for doing this: In 1900 the mathematician David Hilbert proposed twenty-three problems that set much of the agenda for mathematics in the twentieth century. The Millennium Problems--chosen by a committee of the leading mathematicians in the ...
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Overview


In 2000, the Clay Foundation announced a historic competition: whoever could solve any of seven extraordinarily difficult mathematical problems, and have the solution acknowledged as correct by the experts, would receive $1 million in prize money. There was some precedent for doing this: In 1900 the mathematician David Hilbert proposed twenty-three problems that set much of the agenda for mathematics in the twentieth century. The Millennium Problems--chosen by a committee of the leading mathematicians in the world--are likely to acquire similar stature, and their solution (or lack of it) is likely to play a strong role in determining the course of mathematics in the twenty-first century. Keith Devlin, renowned expositor of mathematics and one of the authors of the Clay Institute's official description of the problems, here provides the definitive account for the mathematically interested reader.
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Editorial Reviews

Portland Mercury
Energetic and entertaining...the book's ultimate success is in shining a bright light on the mysteries of the human mind and the truly dizzying heights it can achieve.
Nature
The quality of mathematical exposition is high, a sense of excitement is strongly conveyed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465017300
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/14/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 658,616
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Keith  Devlin

Keith Devlin is the Dean of the School of Social Science at St. Mary's College, Moraga, California, and a Senior Researcher at the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University. He is the author of 22 books, one interactive CD-ROM, and over 65 technical research papers in mathematics. His voice is heard regularly on National Public Radio, on such programs as "Weekend Edition," "Talk of the Nation," "Science Friday," "Sounds Like Science," and "To the Best of Our Knowledge." His previous books include Life by the Numbers, the companion to a PBS series that aired in April and May, 1998; Goodbye Descartes: The End of Logic; and The Language of Mathematics: Making the Invisible Visible.

Biography

Odds are, John Grisham doesn’t get interview questions like this: "If you could meet any mathematician, who would it be?"

But author Keith Devlin does, this time from Discover magazine as part of a January 2001 article coinciding with the publication of his book The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip. His answer may go a long way toward explaining why he has managed to make the world of numbers not only understandable but also enjoyable to a segment of the population that can’t balance a checkbook without a net -- or backup from MIT.

“Isaac Newton,” Devlin told the inquiring minds at Discover. “He was a quarrelsome, egotistical person, but he also invented calculus. He did it, by the way, when he was a student at Cambridge. The Great Plague was going on, so the university was closed, and young Newton found himself without studies to do. Most 20-year-olds would think, ‘Whoopee! I’ll just have a good time.’ Newton went home and invented calculus.”

It is this same kind of passion for mathematics that has enabled Devlin, now the executive director of the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University, to persuade readers that arithmetic, geometry and calculus can be a bracing addition to the stack on the bedside table. In The Math Gene, he explains the “innate sense of number” that lives inside the human mind and how the development of mathematical thinking is closely bound to the development of language. In Goodbye, Descartes: The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind, he argues against the possibility of artificial intelligence, saying that computers are simply logic machines that cannot replicate the rational thought and communication that are part of human smarts. In his newest book, The Millennium Problems: The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles of Our Time, he explains a historic competition announced by a Cambridge, Massachusetts foundation in 2000: Anyone who could solve any one of seven of the most perplexing math problems of the current age would win $1 million.

In a 1999 review, the Economist noted that “Devlin succeeds both in giving us a glimpse of the internal beauty of the subject and in demonstrating its usefulness in the external world. The Language of Mathematics is lucidly written and richly illustrated, and remains accessible and enthusiastic throughout.”

On NPR’s Weekend Edition, where he has become a regular guest, Devlin is referred to simply as “The Math Guy,” or as host Scott Simon once put it “our white knight of the world of mathematics.”

And, going back to that provocative subtitle in The Math Gene, just how is math like gossip? “Mathematicians deal with a collection of objects -- numbers, triangles, groups, fields -- and ask questions like: ‘What is the relationship between Objects X and Y?. If X does this to Y, what will Y do back to X?’” he told Discover. “It's got plot, it's got characters, it's got relationships between them, and it's got life and emotion and passion and love and hate, a bit of everything you can find in a soap opera. On the other hand, a soap opera isn't going to get you to the moon and back. Mathematics can.”

Just don’t forget to carry the 1.

Good To Know

Devlin was the coauthor of the television special A Mathematical Mystery Tour, broadcast as part of the Nova series in 1984.

He once offered as proof of the human brain’s intuitive math skills the ability to judge speed and distance while driving and the ability to add up bowling scores.

Devlin once managed to explain the mathematical difference between a knot and a tangle to National Public Radio’s listeners.

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    1. Hometown:
      Palo Alto, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 16, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Hull, England
    1. Education:
      B.S., King's College, London, 1968; Ph.D., University of Bristol, 1971

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 6, 2010

    Wanted: Solutions to the Greatest Promblems of Mathematics, Reward: $1,000,000

    At any time, mathematicians around the world are working on tens of thousands of interesting problems. But a few rise to the top of the heap, owing to their stubborn refusal to be solved and to their deep connection to many, many areas of mathematics.

    The seven Millenium Problems are among those. Selected by the Clay Foundation, the problems are widely believed to be of surpassing importance to our understanding of mathematics, and to whatever understanding mathematics can give to the universe and to the nature of being.

    These are genuinely hard problems, hard to solve and not so easy to understand. The simplest of them is moderately difficult to state using advanced high school math; the hardest can only be seen in its outlines by the non-mathematician. Making these things avaliable to the general reader is also a difficult task, but Keith Devlin does an admirable job. The reader will find algebra almost indispensible and basic calculus and complex variables very helpful. But it is worth the effort to see where the current frontiers of knowledge lie, and to get a glimpse into the way mathematicians approach problems, and what they consider important.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2005

    See if you can solve one of them!

    The Mellennium Problems is a brilliant summary of the greatest unsolved (and the greatest period) mathematical problems. Keith Devlin does a superb job of condensing and describing the Mellennium Problems. This book will definately please any amatuer or expert in mathematics as they delve in to the mysteries that is unsolved mathematics.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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