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Mathematics without ApologiesPortrait of a Problematic Vocation$
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Michael Harris

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780691175836

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691175836.001.0001

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How to Explain Number Theory at a Dinner Party

How to Explain Number Theory at a Dinner Party

(p.41) Chapter α‎ How to Explain Number Theory at a Dinner Party
Mathematics without Apologies

Michael Harris

Princeton University Press

This chapter begins with the author's account of a dinner party that he attended in the spring of 2008. One of the guests, an actress, had turned to him and asked, “What is it you do in number theory, anyway?” His response to the actress and the conversation that ensued lasted at most ten minutes. However, he has always felt that he could have done better. The chapter then presents what the author feels should have been his answer. The discussion has been broken up into short sessions in order to impede the accumulation of formulas, as the author works his way up to the guiding problem of the Birch–Swinnerton–Dyer conjecture. This chapter contains the first session.

Keywords:   mathematicians, number theory, dinner party, Birch–Swinnerton–Dyer conjecture

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