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Finding Moonshine: A Mathematician's Journey Through Symmetry

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  520 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
This new book from the author of 'The Music of the Primes' combines a personal insight into the mind of a working mathematician with the story of one of the biggest adventures in mathematics: the search for symmetry. This is the story of how humankind has come to its understanding of the bizarre world of symmetry -- a subject of fundamental significance to the way we inter ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published February 4th 2008 by Fourth Estate - London (first published 2007)
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Ami Iida
Aug 04, 2015 Ami Iida rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: symmetry , group theory
Shelves: math
Symmetry is all around us. Our eyes and minds are drawn to symmetrical objects, from the pyramid to the pentagon. Of fundamental significance to the way we interpret the world, this unique, pervasive phenomenon indicates a dynamic relationship between objects. In chemistry and physics, the concept of symmetry explains the structure of crystals or the theory of fundamental particles; in evolutionary biology, the natural world exploits symmetry in the fight for survival; and symmetry—and the break ...more
Gabigabigabi
Aug 15, 2015 Gabigabigabi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: math
In October 2008, Marcus du Sautoy was appointed to the Simonyi Professorship for the Public Understanding of Science, succeeding the inaugural holder Richard Dawkins.
Tracey
Mar 17, 2010 Tracey rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Advanced higher level math students and incredibly patient readers
Recommended to Tracey by: Found at library
Symmmetry: A Journey Into the Patterns of Nature shows a lot of potential. There simply aren't many books targeted to a lay audience exploring the complex concept of symmetry. But does Sautoy deliver a successful and accessible tome outlining symmetry and the nature of mathematical patterns?

Pros: Well designed cover; Interesting topic; Fusion of math & memoir

Cons: Condescending tone; Frequent redundancies; Lack of preface

Like most recent science and math books, Symmetry is divided into ch
...more
Andrea
Jul 18, 2008 Andrea rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: math
I liked this book but it was a little hard to get into. The story about MC Escher's childhood was fascinating. I looked up more information on the 17 wallpaper groups after reading about the Alhambra. I watched a movie where du Sautoy talked about symmetry which is obviously one of his favorite subjects. I would recommend this book to someone who has an interest in the subject but not to someone looking for a easy read.
Jose Moa
Oct 12, 2015 Jose Moa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, mathematics
This book explains the mathematical concept of group by means of patterns of symetry in nature,is a book about groups;the bulk of the book is the history of the theorem about the classification of simple groups, a very long theorem demosstrated by the work of docens of group specialists ,the theorem is 10000 pages long and no single person has read it fully
Asani
Jun 05, 2017 Asani rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Crazy men doing symmetry

Explains the mathematical notion of symmetry and the crazy cast of men who work in this area. Mixed in with the author's own story. Highly entertaining at times. Always educational.
Ben
Feb 02, 2009 Ben rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In my ongoing exploration of math history for the sake of my practice as a math teacher, I bought this book because it seemed to have a lot of information on the history of group theory which is one of my favorite topics. Basically, the book is a sort of theme-and-variations on the topic of symmetry, which is one way to look at what group theory is all about. (You could also say that group theory is one way to look at what symmetry is all about.) The chapters weave together three things: the his ...more
Gerard Brown
This is like reading three books in one...and like the multifunction tools that claim to perform a lot of tasks, it's less than satisfying.

The first story you encounter is that of the author, a mathematician who has reached middle age without having won a prestigious prize in his field. I hope I can be pardoned for not feeling sympathy for him. I find his appearances in the book almost always tedious (view spoiler)
...more
Scott
May 04, 2012 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-tech
One of the paradoxes of popular accounts of mathematics is that they tend to have little mathematics in them. Instead, authors tend to focus on the eccentricities of those who do mathematics. In this book, Marcus du Sautoy does present quite a lot of conceptual material on group theory and its importance in the mathematical expression of symmetry, in addition to the nearly-obligatory accounts of the strange lives of Evariste Galois and Sophus Lie. What also makes this book different than many ot ...more
Jo Bennie
Dec 24, 2014 Jo Bennie rated it it was amazing
The gift of being able to explain the byzantine twists of complex theory to the more mundane mind is rare, Cox, Fortey, Darwin, Dawkins, Hawking. du Sautoy achieves the incredible task in a book I could not bear to come to an end.

Finding Moonshine is ultimately about the search by mathematicians to prove the existence of a geometric shape known as the Monster. This shape only exists in 196,883-dimensional space, a concept way beyond the usual three we exist in, but we are not thrown in at the d
...more
Ed Smiley
Aug 03, 2009 Ed Smiley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is really awesome and goes into a mathemetician's private obsession and delight in symmetry and the drama of the pursuit of a complete catalog of all symmetry types. The Moorish tiles in the Alhambra, the packing of spheres in the 24th dimension, error detection and correction codes, all are connected.

This has about the best explanation for the math loving quasi-layman of the Monster symmetry which emerges from the depths of the 196833rd dimension.

An object with rotations for this symm
...more
christopher monsour
A scattered but decently written tour of group theory, the branch of mathematics that studies symmetry & patterns within symmetrical systems. du Sautoy starts from this example: what sequences of mattress flips [on a mattress whose bottom & top face are identical:] will return the mattress to its original position? Sounds boring enough—and unless you're already a bit mathematically minded, it probably is. But there's a *lot* of structure & interest in the answers, which took mathemat ...more
Celia
Apr 09, 2015 Celia marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up because it's cover intrigued me and the topic of symmetry is something I'd like to know more about. I didn't get a chance to finish it, but I hope to pick it up again soon. When reading this sort of dense, academic book I usually know a lot of the stuff is going to go over my head but I try and read it anyways because well, why not? But I felt less confused then I expected to be when reading this and from what I read of it I found it extremely interesting. The author goes b ...more
Rike Carmack
Nov 04, 2012 Rike Carmack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Lack of footnotes was disconcerting, but the book did give a good idea of what it's like to be a mathematician, or at least what I feel to be a good idea. Since I am not a mathematician I can't say for sure. But Sautoy did convey the obsessiveness that I think you have to have to be a mathematician, as well as the hard work; and the two really go hand-in-hand. Unless you're someone like Gauss or Euler, you've got to really struggle to understand many mathematical concepts, which means you've got
...more
Ed
Jan 19, 2015 Ed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very interesting and very challenging read. A mathematician writes about math and symmetry - the history of math, the histories of various mathematicians who have made contributions and discoveries throughout the years and how math and symmetry relates to art, music, history, politics and science. It was fascinating even if a portion of it was completely over my head.

I really liked the concept of moonshine as it relates to math - the moon doesn't shine itself, but can be seen because
...more
Koen Van den Eeckhout
As with all popular scientific books on mathematics, the sometimes incredible stories about famous mathematicians in history are the most amusing part of the text. However, Du Sautoy often tries to take a different approach and talk more in depth about his own research or the great breakthroughs in the field of group theory and symmetry.

Unfortunately, he does this by avoiding any mathematical notations as much as possible, and he never goes into detail on the finer points of the theory, while s
...more
Maarten
Feb 23, 2014 Maarten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wiskunde
Ik heb erg genoten van het Symmetrie-monster. Du Sautoy is een goede verteller en hij slaagt erin om verschillende verhaallijnen door elkaar gaande te houden. Hij heeft het over de zoektocht van groepentheoretici als Conway en Norton naar een allesomvattende classificatie voor symmetriegroepen en het mysterieuze monster dat erin verborgen ligt, maar ondertussen schetst hij ook een beeld van zijn eigen onderzoek en van het leven van een wiskundige (wat doen ze eigenlijk de godganse dag en zijn ze ...more
Sawsan
Mar 07, 2012 Sawsan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english
Fantastic! from the first pages, the author sails into a new perspective of mathematics :)

I liked the idea of organizing the book into months through which the author describes his journey in search of symmetry. It was a good insight into researchers and scientists life, supervisors and students relationship as well as showing the importance of trust and collaboration among colleagues as a simple discussion might spark great ideas in the others head. He also mentioned some issues which handicap
...more
Jean-claude
Jul 05, 2009 Jean-claude rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fun book. Part autobiography of a mathematician hitting 40, part history lesson of mathematicians with a focus on those who worked in the field of group theory - and part museum tour of cool mathematical objects. Examples include the Monster - an object that exists in 196883 dimensional space and of great importance to group theory - and the proof that hexagonal close packing is not the tightest way to fit 24-dimensional spheres, which amazingly has implications for the transmission o ...more
Dani
Mar 28, 2014 Dani rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book gave me a really long, tingly braingasm.
I mean, a braingasm that lasted the several weeks that it took me to read the book.
As I read, it kept being like, "Ok, so that last thing was awesome, BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!!" With each new thing building on the previous awesome thing.
I'm a math and science fangirl, and I love to learn about mathematical objects. This book gave me lots and lots of new ones for my collection.
It was a huge source of joy.
I returned the library's copy and bought mul
...more
Nathan Glenn
Feb 20, 2014 Nathan Glenn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was neat, getting across what it's like to be a modern-day mathematician, and communicating the way mathematicians work with ideas, not numbers. It's partly autobiographical and partly historical, describing the development of group theory. The descriptions of group theory made the field sound fascinating and far-reaching; it studies symmetry, and the same symmetries are found in art, music, geometry, codes, and everywhere else. I found the technical explanations, however, lacking and ...more
Nancy
Feb 04, 2010 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Math is not a skill or field of knowledge that I ever developed, and parts of this book went way over my head. But overall the author did a good job of making the subject of symmetry and the mathematical language that describes it accessible to the non-mathematician. He told lots of stories from the history of math, and devoted chapters to symmetry in nature, in music, in the human body, and of course, in art. I bought the book for the pictures of the walls of the Alhambra in Spain. I've been re ...more
Mark Wilson
Very enjoyable, as always du Sautoy is able to whet the appetite and spark enthusiasm for the mathematics without leaving the layperson behind, an impressive feat considering the complexity of the subjects he writes about. Some will find this too anecdotal and skimming the surface, but for those there are other books to read, this is enough to start wading in the shallows and to see some of the development in understanding symmetry, and is enough to change most peoples' view of the mathematics t ...more
Jasmine
May 30, 2013 Jasmine rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
So I picked up this book thinking it was interesting and would further my knowledge.
Right on the first count. Somewhat right on the second.
A lot of things remained unexplained, with a "this works because there is this fun kind of math behind it and here are a few properties of that kind of math" type explanation for a lot of the concepts/ideas/statements. I kinda wanted a little more of that math.
So then again, this book made me go look things up. Which was pretty awesome.
Stephen
Mar 16, 2009 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mathematics
Sautoy attempts the impossible: bring mathematics to the public. In Symmetry, Sautoy uses examples from his experiences to showcase how mathematics, especially that of group theory, is an integral part of the human experience. Unfortunately, with language of mathematics is necessary for comprehension of any survey literature on the subject.
Ian
Mar 15, 2013 Ian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
made me think a lot about symmetry and its abstraction. Appreciate du Sautoy's work in making it readable even to non math experts like myself. Nice that it did include math along with stories explaining. Since I did not finish, I'm still reading it. I like the stories of mathematicians and how they discovered things, such as Galois.
Rod
Jun 29, 2008 Rod rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Symmetry is a big deal in science. I was hoping that this popular-audience book would provide some insights into uses of symmetry in modern physics (i.e., string theory). Unfortunately, this book was more an account of the author's intellectual journey than an overview of the current thinking.



Simon Hampton
This is a truly lovely book, combining a history of the mathematical pursuit of the theory of symmetry with stunningly eloquent insights about the motivations of mathematicians. It's over 20 years ago that I recognised the need to move on from maths, but this was a moving reminder of the wonderful hours and days (and baths) spent getting my head around a problem.
Omar Rodriguez-Rodriguez
"An idea can hardly be said to exist if you do not awaken that same idea in someone else."
"A mathematician is a pattern searcher. I try to find the logic or the pattern that helps to generate the world I see around me."
"The symmetry of an object essentially provides a very simple program for constructing the whole of the object from a simple building block."
Trever
Feb 04, 2012 Trever rated it it was amazing
A rather wonderful story through symmetry, the history of mathematics, and the enjoyment of watching children partake in math.

In my mathematics career some of my professors said that this can be related to symmetry like in my number theory class, but this book broke it down very well. Entertaining and worth the price for any math student or teacher.
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Marcus Peter Francis du Sautoy, OBE is the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford.
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