An odd pairing of book blurbs today....
I enjoy most of the essay book compendiums put out by John Brockman and his "Edge" group, including his latest one, simply entitled "Life," centered around evolutionary biology. It contains 18 essays/interviews/discussions that are ~5-15 years old (but still interesting and pertinent), from very well-known names. I highly recommend the volume (it's one of the few non-math books I'm currently reading), but the reason I mention it at all is this 2001 quote from the renowned biologist Ernst Mayr that I found too depressingly vital and spot-on, in lieu of our current politics, to not pass along:
"They recently tested a group of schoolgirls. They asked, 'Where is Mexico?' Do you know that most of the kids had no idea where Mexico is? I'm using this only to illustrate the fact that -- and pardon me for saying so -- the average American is amazingly ignorant about just about everything. If he were better informed, how could he reject evolution? If you don't accept evolution, then most of the facts of biology don't make sense. I can't explain how an entire nation can be so ignorant, but there it is."People wonder how-in-the-world the Trump phenomena has happened? Well, those 2001 students, and their relations, are today part of the electorate.
America has had a good 200+ year run, but perhaps, contrary to political rhetoric, our best days are behind us. Within a couple decades it may be time for China, Germany, Japan, or someone else to take the lead in the world until America can re-educate its citizenry for the times we live in. Just sayin'....
And now, moving on to something completely different (more upbeat)....
If you've enjoyed any of the several latter-day popular volumes (by Derbyshire, du Sautoy, Rockmore, Sabbagh) on the Riemann Hypothesis, and are ready for something a little more mathy or technically meaty on the subject, Barry Mazur's and William Stein's "Prime Numbers and the Riemann Hypothesis" is for you (David Mumford calls it, "a soaring ride"). This slim, terse volume by a couple of excellent math explicators comes in at about 140 pages... but if you eliminate much of the white space and the diagrams/illustrations, you are probably left with less than ~60 pages of text to read (of course the diagrams are essential to making sense of the text, but still there is a brevity of reading).
If you are not particularly interested in the Riemann Hypothesis (I know some folks are engrossed by say, P vs. NP, but shrug at the RH) the book is not for you... it is not a "fun" or entertaining read, but a serious, if succinct, treatment of what many consider the most important, fascinating unsolved problem in all of mathematics; one upon which a great many other important conjectures depend.
For someone like myself it is a very rich read, though I suppose for someone already deeply/professionally entrenched in the details of the RH it may be a more perfunctory treatment. One suspects it will become a staple read for many college number theory courses.
I doubt the RH will ever be proven in my lifetime, but by the end of this slim volume one feels some bit of hope... though I will predict one thing: if the Riemann Hypothesis IS proven, it won't be accomplished by anyone who has voted for Donald Trump ;-]
Anyway, this book will certainly make my year-end list of best popular math books for 2016, even though it does not fit the "general audience" criteria as well as other volumes typically on that list.