Finding Moonshine

Finding Moonshine
Genre : Popular Science
Published : 4 Feb 2008 - Fourth Estate
Our eyes and minds are drawn to symmetrical objects, from the sphere to the snowflake, from the pyramid to the pentagon. Symmetry also plays a fundamental role in the worlds of chemistry, evolutionary biology, art, architecture, music and hi-tech industry. In his new book, Marcus du Sautoy tells the story of how humankind has come to its understanding of the bizarre world of symmetry, a subject of crucial significance to the way we interpret - and manipulate - the world. He also describes his own life as a mathematician as he battles with certain deep conjectures about symmetry -- conjectures that have culminated with one of the most incredible feats of intellectual history, and with the discovery of a symmetrical object that came to be known as the Monster (a complex snowflake that lives in 196,883 dimensional space).

With its bold mix of historical narrative and personal journey, FINDING MOONSHINE provides an exciting escape from the sound-alike science books of recent years, and offers an extraordinary insight into the private and professional worlds of one of our top-ranking mathematicians.


FINDING MOONSHINE is a superlative mathematical entertainment; not pretty to the purist eye, but oh, so effective

The Independent on Sunday

…told with the narrative flair and storyteller’s sense of detail…one of the few popular first hand accounts from the frontiers of modern mathematics.

The Independent

Marcus du Sautoy really is a marvellous writer…With infectious enthusiasm and passion, du Sautoy describes this millennia-old quest…with his wonderfully lucid descriptions and a plethora of well-chosen figures, he succeeds in the task of communicating the theories to specialists and non-specialists alike…He interweaves the grand over-arching narrative with his own research for patterns, describing both its frustrating stumbling blocks and the magical thrill of discovery. It makes for a truly personal, inspiring and hugely entertaining read.

Focus Magazine

Du Sautoy… is not your typical nerdy mathematician. If you have seen him lecture in the flesh, or perhaps watched his fabulous 2006 Royal Institution Christmas lectures on Channel 5, you will know that he looks a bit like the lead singer from Radiohead, plays the trumpet (and footy in a Sunday league) and that he is articulate, fluent, funny and personable. He is also absolutely passionate about mathematics, with a burning desire to make the rest of us as excited as he is about its problems, its patterns and its beauty... He captures for us with brilliant vividness the excitement of the pursuit of a solution to a difficult problem, the extraordinary optimism and patience that modern mathematics requires, when such solutions often involve years of painstaking compilation of partial solutions that might eventually contribute to a successful final outcome. We experience the thrill of a step made towards uncovering ultimate mathematical beauty and share his sense of wonder at the intricacies and patterns that the search reveals. We are drawn into the curious lives of virtuosi from the past, whose brilliant discoveries continue to underpin modern mathematics.

Sunday Times

A fascinating account of the long quest to unearth the mathematics of symmetry… an illuminating account of the life of a mathematician… FINDING MOONSHINE is full of insight into the nature of symmetry and the people who study it. It makes for a fascinating and absorbing read.

The Economist

Idiosyncratic but illuminating…Even if you understand little of the mathematics involved, it’s a fascinating tale… Non-mathematicians will be awestruck by this account of the kind of minds capable of conceiving the Monster and all its symmetries.

Financial Times

Even if the thought of sitting down to a quintic equation makes you want to cry, it would still be hard to resist MOONSHINE’s cocktail of anecdote, swashbuckling potted history and haphazard self-revelation... However, it's the moments of autobiographical intimacy that bring the book to life. Ever wondered what mathematicians do all day? Du Sautoy potters about listening to Strauss and knocks off in time to pick the kids up from school; his colleagues play a lot of backgammon. It sounds like a racket. But perhaps you were curious to learn how du Sautoy and his wife came to adopt those kids? Or which of those colleagues most probably has Asperger's? Or how the author, somnambulant, once tried to strangle his PhD supervisor? These indiscretions transform the book. Without them, it would be a superlatively interesting lecture. With them, it's a joy.

Sunday Telegraph

Marcus du Sautoy knows how to tell a story and, even more important, how to make difficult ideas palatable and even entertaining. He is never condescending and is always true to the spirit of his subject. He is a living refutation of Hardy's snobbish view that popularisation is 'work for second-rate minds'... Most engaging is one of his book's personal leitmotifs: how it feels to be a mathematician who is past 40 and knows that the chance of having a first-rate creative idea is slim. As Hardy wrote when he was in his sixties, mathematics is a game for the young. 'Post-menopausal' mathematicians, as du Sautoy dubs them, often do best to concentrate their attention on nurturing the next generation. In passages of great charm, he describes his attempts to induct his young son Tomer into mathematical thinking.

The Telegraph

Economical and elegant... du Sautoy doesn’t leave readers dangling; he takes pains to explain the secret language of math, even if it requires considerable backing-and-filling to keep pace with him. Impressively, he conveys the thrill of grasping the mathematics that lurk in the tile work of the Alhambra, or in palindromes, or in French mathematician Évariste Galois’s discovery of the interactions between the symmetries in a group. Not for the faint of mathematical heart, but a dramatically presented and polished treasure of theories.

Kirkus Review

Marvellous…rich (and) readable.

The Guardian

Showing 5 of 10 reviews