I am blown away by this book. I’ve read so many nonfiction math and physics books that they were starting to repeat themselves. So, when I picked this one up I thought, “Well, it’s probably more of the same, but it’s popular enough I should really add it to my repertoire.” Way wrong thought. Not only does this book contain even more charming mathematical anecdotes than I’d ever read before, but it also contains better written versions of the stories I’d heard of. For example, I knew about Sophie Germain, but I didn’t know she’d saved Gauss’ life. I knew all about the burning of Alexandria, but I didn’t know it was Mark Antony who attempted to rebuild the great library. I knew Galois died young in a duel, but I never knew the full story.
I read The Code Book in high school, and I remember it being good, but in a recreational way. It piqued my interest but I didn’t really shelf it with “high literature” like I did with Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid or Music of the Spheres: The Material Universe From Atom to Quaser, Simply Explained. It was enough for me, a young geeky teenager, to have a little fun playing with codes, then move on to another book. I am very happy that I returned to Singh, and I can confidently say this is the better of the two I’ve read. Mathematicians sure are a romantic lot.