Reviews of Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture
by Apostolos DoxiadisFrom
Kirkus ReviewsAn intellectual thriller that manages to convey the high drama and excitement involved in the pursuit of an answer to a mysterious . . . mathematical theorem. Eccentric uncles are usually better loved than conventional ones, for some reason, and the narrators uncle Petros Papachristos is about as loopy as they come. Apparently unemployed and rumored to be insane, Uncle Petros lives alone in the countryside and seems to do nothing other than read and play chess. The eldest of the three Papachristos brothers, he grew up in comfort as the son of a successful Athens businessman and was sent for his early education to a fashionable French Jesuit school, where his gift for mathematics was so prodigious that his teachers had to concede their teenaged charge knew more than they. He was then dispatched to Berlin for higher studies, and eventually was on the faculty of the University of Munich. There Uncle Petros became intrigued by Goldbachs Conjecturewhich speculates that every even number greater than two may be expressed as the sum of two prime numbersand sets himself to the task of proving it. By the time he comes to the conclusion that the conjecture is unprovable, hes spent so many years on the effort that his career has been wasted. What effect does his example have on his nephew? Why, naturally it inspires him to become a mathematician and prove the conjecture himself! Some people never learn. Neither do some families. And some end up learning very different things than they set out to discover, as Uncle Petros found out about mathematics and his nephew found out about Uncle Petros himself. Delightful fun, well-conceived and nicely executed. -- Copyright ©2000, Kirkus Associates, LP.
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Petros Papachristos devotes the early part 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. Against a tableau of famous historical figures--among them G.H. Hardy, the self-taught Indian genius Srinivasa Ramanujan, and a young Kurt Godel--Petros works furiously to prove the notoriously difficult conjecture, but suddenly disappears into a solitary existence playing chess in the Greek countryside. To his nephew, he is known as the solitary, eccentric Uncle Petros, but when the young man finds out that his uncle is an esteemed professor of mathematics, he searches out his uncle's hidden past. Through an adversarial friendship based on chess and mathematics, he drives the retired mathematician back into the hunt to prove Goldbach's Conjecture... but at the cost of the old man's sanity, and perhaps even his life. Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture is an intellectual adventure, a story of proud genius and the exhilaration of pure mathematics. It is about the search for truth at all costs, and the heavy price of finding it.
"Paints a fascinating picture of how a mathematician could fall into a mental trap by devoting his efforts to a too difficult problem."--John Nash, Nobel Laureate, 1994, subject of A Beautiful Mind "It is brilliantly written-a mathematical detective story of great charm-and it certainly succeeds in capturing much of the spirit of mathematical research."--Sir Michael Atiyah, winner of the Fields Medal and world-renowned mathematician
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