Book Review: The Equation That Couldn’t Be Solved by Mario Livio

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This book is perhaps my first book specifically focused on mathematics, more of as in applied mathematics. In one word, the book talks about ‘Symmetry’. In nine chapters the book takes us back to the origins of the group theory, the theory developed by Galois, and further developed by many great mathematicians after him, that defines and predicts symmetry in areas like physics, music and art. The first two chapter focus more on the existence of symmetry everywhere around us in different forms, be it in the shapes of all living organisms, or famous musics by beethoven, bach and others to describing the reason of beauty behind many pieces of art. The later chapter talks about ‘the equation that couldn’t be solved’, also called ‘the quintic’, or the equation of degree 5. The years wasted to find a solution to this unsolvable equation, the failures, the setbacks. The next two chapters focus on how two scientists, Abel and Galois, changed the course of mathematics forever, but lived very ill-fated lives, one suffered in poverty and the latter suffered lack of love. From politics, to being ignored by the top guns of their field, both of them fought against the odds for the short, forgotten lives that they lived. Abel proved that the quintic couldn’t be solved, and Galois besides further completing Abel’s proof went a step further and created a completely new field of mathematics to study the solvability of equations, and also later by others to study symmetry, the group theory. These were my favourite two chapters in the book. The two men really inspired me. In the remaining four chapters we read about some basic qualities and developments in the group theory, its applications and the apparent existence of symmetry in almost every field, even in anthropology and dating.

Though for the non-mathematician the book gets a bit difficult to stay focused on for long in the later chapters, or perhaps it was because of my lack of sleep, nevertheless for people interested in mathematics in the world around them, this book is a great read! It was definitely a source of knowledge, and inspiration. I have two other books by the same author lined up for this month, and this is a good thing for sure. Be sure to check his books out too! Happy Reading!

-The Cosmogasmic Person

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