The Mystery of the Prime Numbers uses an innovative visual approach to communicate some surprisingly advanced mathematical ideas without any need for formulas or equations. The issue of prime numbers acts as a gateway into some truly strange philosophical territory whose relevance extends well beyond mathematics.
The series Secrets of Creation is in three volumes:
Secrets of Creation Volume 1 The Mystery of the Prime Numbers
Secrets of Creation, Volume 2 The Enigma of the Spiral Waves
Secrets of Creation, Volume 3 Prime Numbers, Quantum Physics and a Journey to the Centre of Your Mind
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
In honesty, I wasn't expecting to enjoy this book. As a general rule, press releases that come my way -- unless they're very tightly targeted -- can expect to find their way into my 'spam' folder.
Matthew Watkins' Secrets of Creation was a little lucky to escape that fate. Maybe it caught me in a good mood. In fact, it must have done: the title points directly at what the kind of misty profundity that Alfred North Whitehead suggested was an indication of nonsense.
Still, I was evidently interested enough to respond (it quoted @alexbellos as having enjoyed it, and I'm a sucker for social proof) and, once my own books were out of the way, give it a chance.
I'm surprisingly glad I did: Watkins takes the reader into the number system in an accessible and entirely readable way. With inventive illustrations as an aid, he comes up with analogies for tricky concepts (sprites play golf to show what the graph of a function is -- which sounds odder than it is).
In a sense, I'm not the audience for the book -- it's written for the lay reader, and studiously avoids mathematical language as much as possible, and equations almost entirely -- which, for me, made it trickier to read rather than easier, and for me, it was slightly slow going. For most lay readers, though, I'd imagine that the gentle pace was a benefit rather than a difficulty.
So, in summary, it's good! I learned something about the distribution of prime numbers, and got plenty of ideas for teaching hard ideas. If you're not me ((and, in likelihood, you're not)), I think you'll learn plenty about the number system and how it fits together.
~ Colin Beveridge, http://www.flyingcoloursmaths.co.uk/
"The author is at pains to make his exposition readily accessible to any intelligent reader...This is an unusual and fascinating book, which even experts on prime number theory are likely to find of interest." ~ Prof. Brian Josephson, Times Higher Education
"[U]nlike the numerous popular books that have probed deeply into the beauty and mystery of the prime numbers and the Riemann Hypothesis (such as the ones by M. du Sautoy, J. Derbyshire, etc.), this one is unique in many aspects. It is the only book geared towards general audience that actually gives an account of the complexity of the distribution of the prime numbers while containing almost no equations.
So, how did the author achieve this? Through the radiant wit of the illustrations paired up with the exceptional writing. Additionally, his success is due to the simplicity of the explanations, which in an engaging manner reveal complex concepts with such clarity as to make the book accessible to children and non-mathematicians. Lastly, the exposition of the beauty of the harmonic decomposition is superb.
Every argument in the book is backed up vividly by numerous illustrative examples and user-friendly visualizations. The illustrator, Matt Tweed, has provided brilliant drawings that convey and explain the mathematical ideas and concepts as they develop throughout the book. What could have been rigorous text saturated with formulas is replaced by the many entertaining illustrations which also offer an intuitive understanding of the technical complexities behind the text...(My 3-year old son literally could not put this book down; he had many questions and comments about what happens in the drawings.)
This is a very unusual and inspiring book with the potential to spark interest even among experts on prime number theory. The exciting and original presentation is instructive and stimulates further study. Diving into the mystery of numbers in this book leaves one thirsting for the subsequent two volumes."
[full review at
https://web.archive.org/web/20120809155626/http://mathdl.maa.org/mathDL/19/?pa=reviews&sa=viewBook&bookId=73061] ~ Ana Momidic-Reyna, MAA Reviews
"This is a fantastic book. A fabulous book. A splendiferous book!
It's easy enough to say what the book is about: it explains some extremely fascinating properties of the distribution of prime numbers. But that doesn't tell you why it's so great; books about prime numbers are a dime a dozen.
First of all, Watkins (with the help of the illustrations, which I'll get to shortly) manages to explain everything extremely clearly, beginning from first principles—and I really mean first principles; he begins with the definition of the natural numbers and goes from there. The only thing that could possibly stand between elementary school students and an appreciation of this book is their reading ability and attention span, NOT their mathematical abilities. But—and here is the truly astounding thing—I, a PhD student who has studied math my whole life, could not put this book down. Not only was I not bored, I learned new things! How is this possible? Partly, it was due to the fresh, creative, insightful way everything is explained, coupled with excellent writing; partly, it was due to the subject, which starts conventionally enough but soon wanders into fascinating territory unfamiliar to many mathematicians (including this one). A book like this, accessible to young children and engaging to adults, is a rare and wonderful accomplishment indeed!
Oh yes, and the illustrations. The illustrations!
I eagerly await Volume II (to be published next year)!" ~ Brent Yorgey
"There are no equations to scare readers off. There are fun illustrations, by Matt Tweed. The concepts are deep. Matthew dives into the Prime Number Theorem, harmonic decomposition, spiral waves, and much more. The book reads like a fairy tale – a journey for children of all ages into the depths of truly simple mathematics. The book, in my judgment, lives up to its promise of being accessible. It is very entertaining yet remarkably rigorous. It renews my pleasure of finding joy in deep and simple things.
I'm absolutely thrilled to see a book that doesn't dumb down serious Math but simplifies it and communicates it so clearly. I remember having loved Math so much in junior high school and in high school where so much of what I did was to dive into interesting explorations. Then, when I got to college, Math became so dry and lifeless. I can only imagine what college Math would have been like with this book as a text. I sincerely believe that "The Mystery" is a real paradigm changer..." ~ Sol Lederman
"Matthew Watkins' The Mystery of the Prime Numbers is an interesting read. It’s all you ever wanted to know about prime numbers – and then some...
During the discussions on number lines, counting numbers, division, Peano's Axioms and spirals, there are excursions along the way about religion, economics, philosophy and neuropsychology.
The strength of this volume is in the simplicity of the explanations. There are just a few formulas throughout the book (sadly, each equation in a book reduces its sales appeal) and most of the heavy lifting when it comes to explanation is in the illustrations.
For math teachers, the book could give you some ideas for activities for your students to better understand the nature of the number line, the distribution of primes or the nature of infinity." ~ Murray Bourne
"The Secrets of Creation trilogy is one of the most remarkable works of maths popularisation that I have read. Matthew Watkins has a gift for exposition, a gushing passion for his subject and a completely fresh way of approaching basic – and not so basic – mathematical ideas. He has written a brilliantly original work that is both whimsical and cosmically profound. I would recommend it to anyone." ~ Alex Bellos, author of Alex's Adventures in Numberland
"Very kind of you to send your new book. It's very well produced and attractive. I think you've made it really interesting, with well-chosen contents. The illustrations are excellent as well. It deserves to sell a lot of copies." ~ Ian Stewart, bestselling popular maths author
"Many thanks for sending me a copy of your fascinating-looking book... Although I have not had the opportunity to go through it yet in any detail, I should say that it is exactly the kind of thing that I would have enjoyed tremendously and found extremely illuminating in my younger days—in fact, I think this is still the case and I look forward enormously to looking at it in more detail when I get the time. I showed it to my wife, Vanessa, who is the head of the mathematics department at Abingdon School, and she was equally thrilled by the presentation. I hope that she may get in touch with you directly at some stage, since she is always on the look-out for innovative ways of getting her pupils to increase their interest in mathematics.
I very much wish you success in continuing this endeavour, as I notice that this is described as merely volume 1 in a series of 3." ~ Sir Roger Penrose, Rouse Ball Professor of Physics, Oxford
"The pictures alone will attract readers on this stimulating odyssey into the magic and mystery of numbers." ~ Clifford Pickover, bestselling US popular maths author
"The first two Secrets of Creation books completely blew me away when I discovered them last year. I read through them in matter of days in a state of disbelief that there existed such an accessible and patient (and cartoon based!) explanation of the Riemann Hypothesis and related matters. It is a monumental achievement." ~ Paul Stepahin, San Francisco Exploratorium
"[a] wonderful book" ~ Robin Williamson, The Incredible String Band - legendary 60s songwriter/bard/storyteller