Books : reviews

Apostolos Doxiadis.
Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture.
Faber. 2000

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 9 May 2004

Uncle Petros is dismissed as a failure by his family. His nephew is curious to find out why, and as he investigates, he discovers something remarkable: Petros was once a mathematical genius bent on proving Goldbach's Conjecture? What happened to make him end up a virtual hermit?

This is a lovely story, with some great twists along the way. The middle third is structured like a rather chatty mathematical biography -- indeed at least one of the incidents is lifted straight from a story by Hardy (acknowledged in a tongue-in-cheek footnote). It's about the marvelous beauty of mathematics, about what are suitable goals in life, about what constitutes failure, and about the courage of achievement.

Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou.
Logicomix: an epic search for truth.
Bloomsbury. 2009

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 26 December 2010

This is the story of Bertrand Russell's quest to put mathematics on a solid foundation of logic, from his childhood, his discovery of the famous set-theoretic paradox named after him, his work on Principia Mathematica with Whitehead to overcome this problem, up to Kurt Godel's devastating incompleteness theorem that such was impossible. The comic format requires the story to be boiled down to its essence: that is achieved rather well (although necessitating some trickery with history, there's no apparent trickery with logic). There's an intriguing underlying theme of madness: do so many logicians go mad because of their work, or do they turn to the absolute truths of logic in an attempt to avoid madness?