Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

by Paolo Giordano

In my post from two years ago, I have mentioned this book. Last week, I actually have found time to read it (in English).

Prime numbers are divisible only by 1 and themselves. They stand in their place in the infinite series of natural numbers, squashed in between two others, like all other numbers, but a step further on than the rest. They are suspicious and solitary, which is why Mattia thought they were wonderful.
In his first year Mattia had studied the fact that among the prime numbers there are some that are even more special. Mathematicians call them twin primes: they are pairs of prime numbers that are close to one another, almost neighbours, but between them there is always an even number that prevents them from really touching. Numbers like 11 and 13, like 17 and 19, 41 and 43. If you have the patience to go on counting, you discover that these pairs gradually become rarer.
Mattia thought that he and Alice were like that, two twin primes, alone and lost, close but not close enough really to touch one another. He had never told her that.

Of course, the tragic loneliness of the two protagonists is nobody’s fault but their own. Yet the author made me to empathise and sympathise with Alice and Mattia. Especially with the latter who must be simply unbearable in the flesh. Instead of an unlikely happy end, Giordano gives us a much better thing: hope. Highly recommended.

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