The Equation that Couldn’t be Solved
How Mathematical Genius Discovered the Language of Symmetry
The story of symmetry is a story of brilliant mathematicians, and a fascinating account of how mathematics illuminates a wide variety of disciplines. It explains how J.S. Bach composed, how the rubik’s cube was invented and why we are sexually attracted to other people.
Over the millennia, mathematicians had solved progressively more difficult algebraic equations until they came to the quintic equation. It resisted solution for several centuries, until two mathematical prodigies independently discovered that it could not be solved by the usual methods and opened the door to group theory. These young geniuses, a Norwegian named Niels Henrik Abel and the Frenchman, Évarist Galois, would both die tragically. Galois spent the night before his death in a duel (aged only twenty) scribbling another summary of his proof, writing in the margin of his notebook: “I have no time”.
Mario Livio is a former head of the Science Division of the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute. He is the author of The Golden Ratio and The Accelerating Universe.
“Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how the apparently remote concerns of pure mathematics can lead to deep and practical insights into the natural world.”
Ian Stewart, author of ‘Does God Play Dice?’
“A look at brilliant figures who changed the way we approach maths… the tragically short lived Evariste Galois and Niels Henrik Abel, the nineteenth century mathematicians who gave us Group Theory and the method to solving quintic equations.”
‘Leading Edge’ (BBC Radio 4)
“Livio’s exploration of symmetry goes beyond mathematics to take in art and music… Most intriguing of all is his discussion of human evolution.”
‘Scotland on Sunday’
“A lively addition to the small number of popular accounts of these climatic developments in mathematics. His tale is many-stranded.”
‘Times Higher Educational Supplement’
“A fine contribution to mathematical literature.”