Poincare's Prize: The Hundred-Year Quest to Solve One of Math's Greatest Puzzles
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Poincare's Prize: The Hundred-Year Quest to Solve One of Math's Greatest Puzzles

3.24 of 5 stars 3.24  ·  rating details  ·  158 ratings  ·  27 reviews
The amazing story of one of the greatest math problems of all time and the reclusive genius who solved itIn the tradition of "Fermat's 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...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published July 1st 2008 by Plume Books (first published 2007)
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Jason
The writing is mediocre, and in particular, the author should work on trying to be cute less often. There were too many attempts at neat turns of phrase or jokes that completely fell flat. Write well, but don't call attention to yourself.

More importantly, though, the mathematical descriptions were lacking! I know it's a hard subject, but if I couldn't follow what was going on mathematically, I don't know how people without a math major under their belts could. If this were more of a human drama...more
Sarah Coughlon
In this year of much reading, I've realized that there are certain categories in my literary life. Plane Books, for instance, are valuable but only readable when I'm in an enclosed space with nothing else to do for several hours; this category is the less pleasurable version of Important Books, serious works that should affect me deeply and are to be read in deep concentration overal several hours in a secluded library or coffeeshop. Intellectual Power Naps are engaging, but easy and easily divi...more
Neva
I'm torn between 3 and 4 stars. Basically, it dragged in places. But if you're a lay reader who'd like a full understanding of Poincare's conjecture and what it takes to solve a famous, centuries-old problem, this is a great book. The author is a mathematician and good at making complicated concepts fairly easy to understand, and not going into too much detail when it's too complicated (e.g. visualizing 4 dimensional manifolds embedded in higher dimensions). Plus, he gives a small overview of ev...more
Ethan Weker
An insightful and intriguing telling of the story of the Poincare Conjecture. The descriptions are excellent, but for such a visual concept, it's unfortunate that there are no images (drawings or graphics) anywhere throughout the book. When I first took topology in college, it was an analysis based class, and I missed out on the beautiful imagery that would have made me fall in love with it. This book has the verbal imagery, but it would seem to be such a small but meaningful addition to include...more
John Park
For those who see higher mathematics as a spectator sport. Szpiro tells the story of efforts to prove Poincaré's Conjecture of 1904, which says roughly (I think) that any object without a hole in it is topologically equivalent to a (hyper)sphere. Prizes were offered: proof or counterexample? Careers were spent on the problem.

For one or two dimensions it's trivial (the latter in fact being our familar world of two-dimensional surfaces embedded in three-space); in five or more, there's enough room...more
R.
J’ai gardé un très agréable souvenir d’une lointaine lecture du livre de Simon Singh Le dernier théorème de Fermat. Ce souvenir m’est revenu en mémoire lorsque chez mon libraire, en passant devant la section scientifique, j’ai aperçu La Conjecture de Poincaré sur la table des suggestions. Je n’ai pas hésité une seconde et me suis emparé du volume sans même jeter un oeil à la quatrième de couverture. Le nom de Poincaré parle à tout le monde car nous avons en mémoire le patronyme de l’ancien prési...more
Christopher
This scattershot, utterly disorganized account is, for the reader, an exercise in frustration.

It's a darn shame, too, because the historical account he's desperately trying to cobble together seems like it could be pretty fascinating. I get the sense that a truly heroic editor might have been able to salvage a readable book out of this, but in this case they appear to have thrown up their hands in despair and run away.
Chris
Longer than it needed to be.
Othello
Fantastic book! Earlier this year, I went through the "Perelman phase", during which I read a couple of books on this reclusive Soviet/Russian mathematician who solved one of Mathematics' great problems and then refused the huge monetary prizes that followed. To many, that would seem like sheer stupidity. To me, that seemed philosophical - something like the "do your duty, but don't expect any reward" message of the Bhagavad Geeta. I wanted to know more about this Perelman guy.

The first book was...more
James Swenson
I picked up this book out of curiosity. When I wrote a Ph.D. thesis in algebraic topology, the Poincaré conjecture was the most significant open problem in the field. I wanted to know how the author would explain it to a popular audience.

Here's the statement of the conjecture: Every simply-connected closed 3-manifold is homeomorphic to the 3-sphere. See the problem? "Every" is the longest comprehensible word in the sentence. [The other familiar words, like "closed," do not have their standard me...more
Robert
Briefly. I would rate this book more highly if it had some illustrations of the core topological material. It is after all a book for a general audience without much background in topology and topological pictures can be really cool. I thought the flow, historical and biographical background were excellent. The story is well told (I still have to read other sources to comment on the accuracy and tone) complete with the unfortunate background of competitiveness and another historic round of prior...more
Marc
I read the French translation of this book.

English summary

Too many (utterly) irrelevant anecdotes and not a single picture/illustration/graphics (the topic is after all differential GEOMETRY) hinder the reading, unless you already know something of the topic. I finished the book one week ago, and do not remember much of the story - and very little of the techniques which helped solve the problem. Just a few general ideas remain - about the dynamics of problem solving in the mathematical field. T...more
Patrick Smith
Alright so this was one of the most uneven and mostly boring math bio books I've read. One of the main things I have a problem with is that when writing a book about manifolds and topology, a few illustrations can go a long way. Even the Ricci flow can be easily viewed but alas no illustrations nor mathematics were present in this book. Another major and odd problem with this bio is that the author seems to recant every single mathematician who ever looked at the Poincare conjecture which ended...more
Chris Wolverton
Believe it or not, this is the first of three books that I bought to read on the Poincare Conjecture. I enjoyed the book. It's well-written, and the explanations are relatively clear. But, the author seems to go out of his way to avoid even the slightest hint of anything that is not text. So, not only are there no equations in this book, which is probably a reasonable approach, but there are also no figures or drawings. I found this to be a very surprising approach to a book that is essentially...more
John
The history of a solution to a century-old mathematics problem is presented in great detail in this book. The hardest part about advanced mathematics is describing it to non-mathematicians. The author does a good job, but there are concepts that I just couldn't understand. It's always hard to describe a higher dimensional object to someone living in a three dimensional world.
Avi
I was really looking forward to learning about the Poincare Conjecture, but this book either glossed over or explicitly avoided explanations of the underlying math, while spending an inordinate amount of space discussing the (uninteresting) biographies of mathematicians who were only tangentially connected to the story at hand. Very disappointing.
Bryan Higgs
An interesting description of the solution to one of the most important mathematical problems: The Poincare Conjecture.

It attempts to explain the mathematical background (topology), but doesn't explain much of the essential background. Terms are used without explanation.

The history and personalities are interesting.

Recommended.
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
If you write that Columbus's crew was on the point of mutiny because they believed the earth was flat and they were going to sail off the edge ... well, let's just say that makes me start wondering what else you're wrong about. Particularly when the book will be full of assertions it will be difficult or impossible for me to verify.
Scott and Stephanie
A fun, gossipy history of the personalities surrounding the Poincare conjecture. Unfortunately, some of the math is wrong and some unclear. Some mathematicians who deserve better are not shown in their best light. Poincare's conjecture was extremely difficult and even wrong roads led to interesting destinations.
Maureen
I slogged my way through this book. It's a fascinating story told poorly. I kept at it because it was fun to learn the history of so many of the famous mathematicians. Also, unless you are a topologist, you will lose your way after a while.
James Myers-regulinski
I never thought I would find Topology or abstract math interesting, but Szapiro has a nack for making it exciting. It was also read like a who's who on important mathematicians in the 20th century.
Pam
An attempt to explain one of math's greatest conjectures. Graphics would have helped. I understood most of it-- it helps that I majored in mathematics years ago.
Brett
Facsinating stuff. Very similar to Singh's Fermat's Enigma. Can't say I understand half of the math but still fun.
Carmen Mandel
The Poincaré Conjecture was an attempt to understand space in a higher dimension and was finally solved.
Sophie
I got tired of reading all those people who tried and failed, so I skipped most of them.
BakuDreamer
Got up to ch. 7 and had to stop ( maybe try it again later )
Tatiana Lissitskaia
Tatiana Lissitskaia marked it as to-read
Sep 06, 2014
Ssergey
Ssergey marked it as to-read
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George G. Szpiro is an Israeli-Swiss applied mathematician and journalist, who has emerged as a writer of popular science books.
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