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People, Problems, and Proofs: Essays from Gödel's Lost Letter: 2010 (Englisch) Gebundene Ausgabe – 27. Dezember 2013

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From the book reviews:

“This book is one of those inspiring books that almost every computer scientist should read. Moreover, it is also very well suited to a wider audience, including those curious about the field and newcomers. Its authors, Lipton and Regan, did a wonderful job introducing and analyzing important problems in complexity theory with an easy-to-read text. … It is therefore an invaluable source of inspiration and study.” (Carlos Linares Lopez, Computing Reviews, August, 2014)


People, problems, and proofs are the lifeblood of theoretical computer science. Behind the computing devices and applications that have transformed our lives are clever algorithms, and for every worthwhile algorithm there is a problem that it solves and a proof that it works. Before this proof there was an open problem: can one create an efficient algorithm to solve the computational problem? And, finally, behind these questions are the people who are excited about these fundamental issues in our computational world.

In this book the authors draw on their outstanding research and teaching experience to showcase some key people and ideas in the domain of theoretical computer science, particularly in computational complexity and algorithms, and related mathematical topics. They show evidence of the considerable scholarship that supports this young field, and they balance an impressive breadth of topics with the depth necessary to reveal the power and the relevance of the work described.

Beyond this, the authors discuss the sustained effort of their community, revealing much about the culture of their field. A career in theoretical computer science at the top level is a vocation: the work is hard, and in addition to the obvious requirements such as intellect and training, the vignettes in this book demonstrate the importance of human factors such as personality, instinct, creativity, ambition, tenacity, and luck.

The authors' style is characterized by personal observations, enthusiasm, and humor, and this book will be a source of inspiration and guidance for graduate students and researchers engaged with or planning careers in theoretical computer science.

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Inside the minds of geniuses 30. Mai 2014
Von RAD - Veröffentlicht auf
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This excellent book is the second in a series of edited essays based on Richard Lipton's (and now Ken Regan's) enormously popular mathematical blog called Godel's Lost Letter. The "geniuses" I am referring to in the title of this review include not only the authors, who definitely qualify, but even more importantly to the wonderful cast of characters that are the center of these gems of science writing. I generally avoid mathematics books with titles like this one because they tend to to be dry recitations of who proved what--devoid of technical challenges and usually humorless--prose style and technical content slanted I would imagine to the 9th graders who will lift entire paragraphs to complete homework assignments. Nothing of that sort here. People play a key roles in these essays, but part of the delight in reading this book is discovering who gets mentioned.

In a wonderful chapter about the role of amateurs, for example, screen actress Hedy Lamarr takes center stage (it turns out that she holds a patent useful for protecting WWII torpedoes from radar detection). Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Frank Ryan makes an appearance. Ryan somehow managed to balance an NFL career with a full-time tenure track position in the mathematics department at Case Western Reserve University, where Lipton was an undergraduate. Ryan had a unique approach to teaching complex analysis. I won't spoil the rest of the story.

The topics are far-flung in this collection, ranging from mathematical logic to quantum mechanics. Not surprisingly, there is a noticeable tilt toward computation. Every essay is accessible at many levels. Mathematical experts and novices will find themselves challenged (in fact most of the essays end with a section called "Open Problems."). Amazingly enough, the book is also suitable for general readers who knows little of the mathematics or science behind the stories. Everyone learns something.

The authors' personalities shine through. In a long-ish opening chapter (my favorite chapter in the book) describing the now-famous crowd-sourced reviewing of a proof of a famous mathematical conjecture, Regan launches a side conversation about cheating in chess. The authors are attracted to problems of logic (formal and not-so-formal). These are among the most challenging topics in the entire book, but hidden among the the sometimes formidable details are observations for everyone about the importance of mathematical notation.

Despite generous clues, it is not always easy to tell who is writing what. Readers often feel that they are sitting in on a family dinner table discussion, where ideas get launched, spun, and polished over the course of an evening. There are however two sure-fire ways to attribute paragraphs to authors. Regan brings his daily routine (helping with kids, working while on vacation) into his writing. Lipton frequently makes a point, finds that he has nowhere rhetorically interesting to go, and finishes with a simple "Oh well."
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