Monday, 26 September 2011

Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture by Apostolos Doxiadis

Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture by Apostolos Doxiadis
First published in Greek by Kastaniotis in 1992 titled ''Ο θείος Πέτρος και η εικασία του Γκόλντμπαχ'' (this edition by Faber & Faber in 2000)

Description (from Goodreads)
In the tradition of Fermat's Last Theorem and Einstein's Dreams, a novel about mathematical obsession.

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. Decades later, his ambitious young nephew drives the defeated 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.

My thoughts
I do realise that most of you probably won't be able to read the Greek I have put up there, but I thought I might as well show off a little bit and put a teensy weensy bit of Greek on my blog!

Just because I am extremely smart, I decided to read a book, that was first published in Greek, in English. If it were the other way around and you were telling me to read a Greek translation of an English book, I wouldn't do it easily or happily, because the majority of books that I have read in Greek have either been very bad translations of foreign books or boring Greek ones. (Do not get me started on some of the things Greek writers choose to write about. Plus, most times I find their language to be a little too show-off-y.)

Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture is one of those books that I have been hearing about for years and years. Though I am not a big fan of reading fiction in Greek, I do not mind reading books that deal with philosophy or mathematical logic in Greek. I think that is probably because of the fact that I went to a Greek school, so everything I know about maths and logic (and all that jazz), I know in the Greek way; I am more familiar with the terms, which means that it helps me to better understand what is going on. The thing is that we never had a copy of this book at home (that I know of, at least). I did know my Grandpa had one when I went to England this year and I promised myself I would read it this summer.

Before reading this book, I had only vaguely heard of Goldbach's Conjecture, but had never really bothered to find out what exactly this Conjecture was all about. Now, I consider myself a little more educated with the matter. The story focuses on the narrator's Uncle Petros, a recluse of sorts, who is considered to be a bit of a weirdo even by his own brothers, because he never showed any interest in anything except for his ''beloved" mathematics. The real story behind Uncle Petros' withdrawal from society was the fact that he had  become obsessed with proving Goldbach's Conjecture.

The book consists of three chapters (yes, three), each one surrounding a different time in the narrator's and Uncle Petros' lives. We learn of Uncle Petros' story through the narrator, who is an aspiring mathematician and turns to his Uncle Petros for advice and guidance. His story is truly intriguing and it shows how something (even in the form of a short mathematical equation) can take over your whole life. It is also rather sad at times, because you can't help but feel sorry either for the narrator or for Uncle Petros himself, depending on which part you are reading.

Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture is not a book for everyone. I am not trying to sound snobbish, but I know for fact that not many people like reading books about maths and mathematical logic. And it's completely understandable. Which is why there is going to be no urging to read this book. It is very well written and very interesting, but because of the fact that is it very mathematically oriented, it's not for everyone. But, if you are interested in reading a book about maths, this is an excellent book to read.

Rating: 8/10 

Apostolos Doxiadis was born in Brisbane, Australia, but grew up in Athens, 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, working on mathematical models for the nervous system. He has also directed and written theatre plays, as well as films.

(This is one book I've been meaning to read for quite some time, but it's not very cheap so I haven't got round to buying it yet.)

You can find out more about Apostolos Doxiadis from his official website.

Read for the: 100 Books In A Year Challenge 2011

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