"Symmetry and the Monster"
I finished this book last night. Basically, this book is all about group theory and how hundreds of years of research finally led to the discovery of the Monster and its surprising numerical relationships to other mathematical functions and theories in physics. When I first bought the book, I thought the Monster was E8, which isn't the case, but they're similar in terms of the research involved. In any event, Ronan keeps the math really light and focuses more on the history involved in getting to the discovery. Overall this book is decent - I wish Ronan wasn't so light on the math and would've had more examples in the text - but the history was fairly entertaining.
Group theory was something I lightly touched on during my master's thesis, "Multiple-Precision Arithmetic Using the Number Theoretic Transform". Basically by using some theorems and equations in group theory and related topics, you can do large multiplications using interger arithmetic (here's a decent explanation of the idea). I didn't have any training or classes in group theory so I had to learn the basics on my own...well, actually, I needed to spend a 1/2 hour with Dr. Michael Slattery to understand the concepts better. Incidentally, that was the best 1/2 hour I ever spent with a teacher in grad school - Slattery was extremely friendly and was more than willing to spend the time with a student that he had never met with to go over group theory. Anyway, I've always had an interest in this stuff, but I've never done a deep dive into the theorems. I was hoping this book would've been a good stepping stone into this world, but it was just too high-level. It's definitely not a bad book though and the historical aspect to mathematics was pretty interesting.
By the way, there's one mathematician's name Ronan mentions (frequently) that ... well, let's just say his last name will bring the juvenille laughs forward (at least it did with me). I hate to say that because it has nothing to do with the man himself, but still ... you just have to read the book to find out what I'm referring to :).
* Posted at 10.05.2009 07:24:26 PM CST | Link *