January 07, 2004

In Code

from - smijer

In Code: A Mathematical Journey, by Sarah and David Flannery

I simply cannot say enough good things about this book. Sarah Flannery, with gracefully acknowledged help from her father David, describes for readers her own brush with academic fame and the single-minded research that only comes from a heart-felt passion. It brought her to the pinnacle of scientific success while still a teenager in Dublin, Ireland. The passion is infectious, and Ms Flannery knows just how to tease out the logophile in each of us.

She introduces us to herself and her familiar (if still quirky) family, and the education she received by saturation at home. One cannot help but make comparisons between the Flannery's precise mathematical instruction and the Weasely family's (that's of the Harry Potter line, if you don't know) ubiquitous use of magic. Rigorous, maybe. Boring? Never. A fantasy suitable for youngsters and oldsters alike: yes, but, unlike the Weasely's, a potential reality as well.

After sharing some of the favorite logic puzzles and teasers that she was suckled upon, Sarah moves on. With humility and good humor uncharacteristic of a person of the same age in America, Sarah introduces her readers to the basics of number theory and its application in computer cryptography.


She tells us of her interest in creating a cryptographic method for a regional science competition, and how it dovetailed nicely with the extracurricular studies where she was immersed. She traces the project from its beginnings as a hunch she shared with a collegue in her cooperative education program to its culmination as a mature piece of scientific research and a potentially earth-shaking discovery.

She shares with us the unearthly exhilaration of earning accolades and awards for her work, without ever giving the appearance of unseemly pride or of false modesty.

This book is a fascinating and educational read for anyone - including the "math challenged", and including people you would normally consider might be too young to care much about whether a number is prime.

Buy it. Read it. Leave it out for the youngsters to get their greedy hands upon. This book receives a 10 out of 10. Buy from your local independent book-seller.

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Posted by smijer at January 7, 2004 08:50 PM
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