I registered for M208 this week, and I’m really looking forward to the delivery of my course materials next month, so I can carry on with the Group Theory A block. In the meantime, I’ve been reading another Marcus du Sautoy book, Finding Moonshine, which is a very apt choice to pass the time with, since it’s about group theory and symmetry.

Finding Moonshine is split into twelve chapters, one for each month of one year of du Sautoy’s life, and each chapter combines the history of group theory with more personal anecdotes about the author’s own career. I was a bit ambivalent about this approach at first, but over the course of the book I really warmed to it. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of what it’s like to be a professional mathematician; particularly the little details of du Satuoy’s working style, like the yellow legal pads he prefers to write on, and stories about the overseas trips he makes over the course of the year.

Actually, aside from the wonders of group theory, the main thing I got out of reading Finding Moonshine was an increased urge to travel! I particularly enjoyed the passages about the Alhambra, and I’m now determined to take a trip there myself, most likely in 2012 when I’ll hopefully be taking M336: Groups and geometry. I also really want to visit the glass pyramid at the Louvre, too. I can only imagine how awe-inspiring it must be to see it in person.

The glass pyramid at the Louvre
Louvre Pyramid, Paris by batigolix

As for the mathematical content of the book, I think it’s more enjoyable in that respect than The Music of the Primes; I’ve certainly come away from Finding Moonshine with group theory fever, and I can’t wait to get back to studying it formally. I do think that the book might have been a bit over my head if I hadn’t already met the concept of symmetries as transformations in MS221, though, so perhaps this wouldn’t be a great choice for someone completely new to the subject. The next book on my reading list is Ian Stewart’s Why Beauty Is Truth: The History of Symmetry, so it’ll be interesting to see if it turns out to be a gentler introduction to the awesome world of group theory.

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