The Equation that Couldn't Be Solved: How Mathematical Genius Discovered the Language of Symmetry

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Simon and Schuster, Sep 19, 2005 - Mathematics - 368 pages
11 Reviews
What do Bach's compositions, Rubik's Cube, the way we choose our mates, and the physics of subatomic particles have in common? All are governed by the laws of symmetry, which elegantly unify scientific and artistic principles. Yet the mathematical language of symmetry-known as group theory-did not emerge from the study of symmetry at all, but from an equation that couldn't be solved.

For thousands of years mathematicians solved progressively more difficult algebraic equations, until they encountered the quintic equation, which resisted solution for three centuries. Working independently, two great prodigies ultimately proved that the quintic cannot be solved by a simple formula. These geniuses, a Norwegian named Niels Henrik Abel and a romantic Frenchman named Évariste Galois, both died tragically young. Their incredible labor, however, produced the origins of group theory.

The first extensive, popular account of the mathematics of symmetry and order, The Equation That Couldn't Be Solved is told not through abstract formulas but in a beautifully written and dramatic account of the lives and work of some of the greatest and most intriguing mathematicians in history.
 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - jefware - LibraryThing

While the concept of symmetry is fascinating I think that it's application to particle physics may be like applying circles to planetary motions. Nature just isn't symmetric. This book includes a great history of the mathematics of Group Theory. Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - shushokan - LibraryThing

This book would make a good biography of Abel and Galois but is really a book about maths and not a maths book (if you can see the distinction). We get the intimate details of the two mathematicians ... Read full review

Contents

1 Symmetry
1
2 eyE sdniM eht ni yrtemmyS
29
3 Never Forget This in the Midst of Your Equations
51
4 The PovertyStricken Mathematician
90
5 The Romantic Mathematician
112
6 Groups
158
7 Symmetry Rules
198
8 Whos the Most Symmetrical of Them All?
233
Appendix 4 A Diophantine Equation
281
Appendix 5 Tartaglias Verses and Formula
282
Appendix 6 Adriaan van Roomens Challenge
285
Appendix 7 Properties of the Roots of Quadratic Equations
286
Appendix 8 The Galois Family Tree
288
Appendix 9 The 1415 Puzzle
291
Appendix 10 Solution to the Matches Problem
292
Notes
293

9 Requiem for a Romantic Genius
262
Appendix 1 Card Puzzle
277
Appendix 2 Solving a System of Two Linear Equations
278
Appendix 3 Diophantuss Solution
280

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About the author (2005)

Mario Livio is an internationally known astrophysicist, a bestselling author, and a popular speaker who has appeared on The Daily Show, 60 Minutes, and NOVA. He is the author of the national bestseller Brilliant Blunders and other books. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

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