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Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  4,804 ratings  ·  374 reviews
In this critically acclaimed international bestseller, Petros Papachristos, a mathematical prodigy, has devoted much of his life trying to prove one of the greatest mathematical challenges of all time: Goldbach's Conjecture, the deceptively simple claim that every even number greater than two is the sum of two primes. His feverish and singular pursuit of this goal has come ...more
Kindle Edition, 220 pages
Published December 1st 2010 by Bloomsbury USA (first published 1992)
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Trust the Young

Number theory has nothing to do with the real world, unless you happen to be a number theorist. Then it is the real world; everything else is illusory. Number theory has no application to anything except... well, numbers. It eschews other branches of mathematics as pedestrian. Physics, engineering, and even geometry, although they use numbers, are simply diversions for the less talented, that is to say inferior, intellect. Mere calculation is trivial even if it is arduous and comp
Aug 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mathematicians who do Number theory always awe me. I like numbers. I was surely amazed to find the series:

1+2+3+4+… = - 1/12 (Don’t miss this and the wiki article).

But, I don’t perceive the number 65 as some city gentleman with bowler hat and rolled umbrella who doesn't like to stay away from his prime divisor 13 who is a goblin-like creature, supple and lightning-quick in his moves. Or, for that matter, the number 8191 also does not seem to me as a man wearing French gamin with a gauloise cigar
This is more of a short story than a novel. On the surface it is about the fictional mathematical prodigy Petros Papachristos. His life goal has been to prove one of the oldest unsolved problems of number theory, Goldbach's Conjecture. This states that every even integer greater than two is the sum of two primes. Petros’ nephew tells the story.

First of all, mathematical axioms, theories and proofs do take up a significant portion of the text. For me, much of the mathematical reasoning went
Jun 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: number-phobics
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books list
Apparently maths can be fun. Not something I ever really appreciated as a child. Mostly maths was a lesson in which eye contact was to be avoided, a) to limit the chances of being called upon to make any kind of answer regarding anything even vaguely numeric and b) because the maths teacher was kind of creepily weird. This book is what I'd regard as one of the more unconventional additions to the 1001 books list and I really enjoyed learning about the maths as well as Uncle Petros' life story. B ...more
N.J. Ramsden
Feb 05, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A very pleasing little novel. Clever, witty, and enjoyable. Unfortunately it's also pretty forgettable, and I fail to recall more than a hazy glow of general satisfaction from my reading of this.

Of course, not the least of its pleasures lies in watching a bookshop assistant struggle with their keyboard as you ask "Do you have Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture by Apostolos Doxiadis?"

Jun 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful, compelling, and tragic story of mathematical obsession. As the story starts, Uncle Petros, once a promising young mathematician, has wasted his intellectual gifts, amounted to very little professionally, and his family holds him in contempt but takes care of him. As his nephew tries to discover what happened from him, Uncle Petros reveals his story of how his brilliant start was eclipsed by his all-consuming obsession to crack Goldbach's conjecture. Along the way he crosses paths wi ...more
Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The title of the book enticed me. I am a sucker for themes that involve math stories. In some way I feel i am redeeming myself for not studying math well enough in my school days.

This is a very interesting story of a "could have been great" mathematician Petros Papachristos. He took on an very tough old math problem of the Goldbach Conjecture and attempted to solve it to achieve fame - and thereby win back his first and only girlfriend Isolde.

The story is set in the time of G H HArdy and Ramanuj
What stayed with me, long after I had read A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit by Alan Lightman, was the tone of regret, that powerful, haunting emotion. He writes of his own regrets in discovering in his thirties that his chosen life was over. He was a physicist, he no longer had any expectation of doing anything that mattered.

When I directed an astrophysics conference one summer and realised that most of the exciting research was being reported by ambitious young people in
Dec 06, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Math lovers, science lovers, knowledge lovers, dreamers
Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture tells the story of a brilliant mathematician obsessed with proving Goldbach's Conjecture (as reformulated by Euler: every even number greater than two is the sum of two primes). Despite the seemingly difficult mathematical subject, the book is a quick and easy read. This is a testament to the clear and simple prose of the author, himself a mathematician by training.

While math is the main focus of the book, an underlying theme is the question of how and why
Oct 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Matt by: notgettingenough

Uncle Petros is considered the black sheep of the family, one of “life’s failures”, by his two younger brothers. His nephew, the first person narrator of the story, sees his uncle only once a year when the family gathers for a ritual visit. The nephew is intrigued by the man and especially by his library of books containing some mysterious symbols like and and . One day he finds out that uncle Petros was a mathematician when he was young. The boy starts to get an interest in mathematics him
Aasem Bakhshi
Incidentally, I read it while I was trying to built a non-fiction narrative in Urdu on limits of rationality and mysteries surrounding interplay of reason and intuition in the process of mathematical discovery. I absolutely loved how Doxiadis transformed this well-known thread of history of mathematics into an unputdownable novel. It is amazing how simple his characters look and yet how intricately complex their inner struggles are. The bits about Hardy, Littlewood, Godel and Turing are well ble ...more
Dec 13, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Repetitive and dull. The meddle of an author is easily tested by how often he or she uses the same phrase to describe something. While Goldbach's Conjecture is central to the plot of the novella the author says the conjecture dozens of time when this reference is un-needed. The author in no way indicates the actual progress of the problem and the introduction of Kurt Godel and Alan Turing was a dis-service to their memory when presented with such dull dialog.

The end was both a twist and totally
May 06, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, mathematics
This is a short book--a fast and easy read. The story describes how a good mathematician sank into an obsession that swallowed up his life. The storyteller's mathematician friend, Sammy, mentions that the trail of a mathematical quest will be littered with intermediate, published results on a variety of topics. So, why didn't Uncle Petros publish his intermediate--but important--results?

Interestingly, I do not remember another novel with as many footnotes as this one! (Actually, I don't remembe
Nov 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: globe-trotting
This fictional account of a mathematical genius takes one extremely close in understanding what these exalted men and women must go through in their personal lives, and the kind of sacrifices that must be made for their genius to show. It is awe inspiring and heart-breaking at the same time.
Best read in one sitting on a carefree day.

Nov 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A definitely unusual read, this book deals with the obsession of mathematics. Most people would find them to be boring and useless, nothing but theories without a practical use in everyday life (outside adding or multiplying). The book focuses on the life of a mathematician and shows why this type of people love it so much. Turns out (if you don’t know it yet) that mathematicians love solving enigmas concerning numbers. And not in the same sense as others solve puzzles or sudoku; they love provi ...more
I didn't have any preconceptions for this book, my only previous knowledge was that it is about mathematics (obviously!) which, to be fair, means I'm already in favour before I turn the front page! Apostolos Doxiadis has quite cleverly comprised the story of his Uncle Petro's mathematical life into this charming novel without going into too much detail about the mathematics itself making it unambiguous for the non-mathematician to read (or a beginner like me). I particularly liked the way the bu ...more
Oct 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Take a look at what the other reviewers have said. Overwhelmingly they were seduced by the apparent centrality of narrative, that is Uncle Petros, the mathematical prodigy, and his fixation on solving the Goldbach Conjecture. But that was not the key issue of the novel. That key issue was stated two-thirds into the story - That humankind can aspire to solve everything by reason, but practically speaking, it is the lesson of Icarus that is the bottom line. "Set yourself achievable goals" may seem ...more
Nov 27, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a gripping story, but Doxiadis just isn't a very good writer. What's really disappointing - to me - is that it doesn't actually get into the math very much; for the most part it just kind of describes without explaining ("Then I tried a an algebraic approach"). Also, I found parts of it extremely obnoxious (like the end!) - especially the veiled notion that only the romantic genius type can be a "true" mathematician, and the corresponding implication that mathematics is the only real abstra ...more
C.P. Cabaniss
Oct 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this novel. It's mathematical without being overly specific and tedious, which makes it a great read for many people and not just those who appreciate math.

This story was very cleverly written. You never know the name of the narrator, which seems kind of strange but works really well. It also blends in mathematical history very well, including many well known mathematicians.

This is a very fast read and very enjoyable.
Jun 25, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-reads
I could see the germ of Logicomix in this novel: Doxiadis's obsession with mathematics and insanity. Another fine book that attempts to approximate what is going on in the mind of the mathematician (a state I will never know but like to imagine). Also brought to mind Ron Carlson's short story "Towel Season," - a story I love about a mathematician consumed by an insurmountable problem. ...more
Feb 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english
Delightful & short. And rather realistic, afaik, about mathematics researchers. I loved Petros' rant about multiplication (of natural numbers): ".. an unnatural, contrived, second order (to addition) concept. To invent a name for it is the devil's work .. ". It's a pity that the geometrical proof for the conjecture is missing from the book.
Jose Moa
Sep 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The only novel i have read on the mathematics subject;a man when young is proposed by his uncle to solve the Goldbach conjecture ,the youn man spends his li tryng to probe it with all tecniques but fails and receive a great shocck when he realices the existence of the Godels incompeltitude theorem
If someone had told me to read a book about a man who spent a lifetime trying to solve a mathematical mystery I would probably have just given them a funny look and thought no more about it.... especially if they had gone on to tell me it had no chapters and nothing much happened...
in short nobody recpmmended this book to me and i had never heard of it until two or three days ago. But now having rated it 5 stars adn coming down from that great feeling of total story immersion I am recommending
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, math
I'm an English teacher and librarian, and although I took math classes all through high school and did well enough in college, I have never considered myself a math person. It's not that I don't understand concepts; it's more that math has never touched my soul the way that reading has. I remember very little of all the equations I learned in school, and I feel awful that I cannot help students with their math problems at school. I am always telling myself I need to take a refresher course or tw ...more
Jul 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I was at school I hated Maths (yes over here we say it in the plural) with a passion. When I’m confronted with a ton of numbers my mind just refuses to work. The funny thing is when I’m reading these mathematical/scientific novels all the concepts become clear. This was the case of Uncle Petros…

On the whole it’s a very simple story. The narrator is a good mathematician but finds out that his mysterious Uncle Petros is a professor in the subject. On further investigation he has found out tha
Sep 02, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
The plot and premise of this book was cool - boy admires mysterious old uncle, boy finds out the uncle "wasted" his entire life trying to solve the infamous math problem known as "Goldbach's Conjecture," boy tries to follow in uncle's footsteps. The writing was mediocre - but it's hard to know how much was lost in the translation from the original Greek - and the story somewhat predictable. But I liked it cause it kicked off a firestorm of mathematical obsession in me, and that's a good thing. T ...more
Jul 01, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
"Every number greater than 2 can be expressed as the sum of two prime numbers". It's an interesting fact/theory, but it seems a slight one to base a novel on, much less spend your whole life trying to prove that it is true in every occasion. Petros Papachristos does waste his life trying exactly that, although whether it is a waste depends on your point of view. His nephew sees it as a noble struggle in a quest for the essence of things, and endeavours to follow a mathematical number theory path ...more
Betty Asma
Oct 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A biographical fiction about the lifelong relationship between a young Greek man, who somewhat resembles the author Apostolos Doxiadis, and his Uncle Petros--a black sheep of the business-oriented family as well as a mathematical genius who devoted his life to the solution of Goldbach's Conjecture (="Every even number greater than two is the sum of two primes"). Besides narrating a captivating and insightful story, Doxiadis, a surprisingly good teacher who teaches by restatement, surveys mathema ...more
Andrea Hickman Walker
This is an amazing book! Most people would consider a novel centred on maths rather uninteresting. I have always liked maths, though I prefer algebra to geometry and calculus and other more complicated things. I also like books about scientists because I know scientists and I understand how their minds work (most of the time). Also, I really enjoy mystery stories and that's what science is all about, after all, solving mysteries. The only thing I didn't like was the ending, but considering the f ...more
Dec 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture tells the story of a brilliant mathematician obsessed with proving Goldbach's Conjecture. Petros Papachristos devotes the early part of his life trying to prove Goldbach`s Conjecture. This book is a great book and I would recommended it to anyone who loves math. It`s a great book for anyone who wants to find out about the life of a person who LOVES Goldbach's Conjecture. If you want to find the answer to it read this book.(view spoiler) ...more
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Apostolos Doxiadis (Greek: Απόστολος Δοξιάδης) was born in Brisbane, Australia in 1953, and grew up in Greece.
Although interested in fiction and the arts from his youngest years, a sudden and totally unexpected love affair with mathematics led him to New York's Columbia University at the age of fifteen. He did graduate work in Applied Mathematics at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, w

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