2017 Large Newspaper - Silver


For more than 10 years, Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki worked largely by himself on a proof of the so-called ABC conjecture, one of the most important unresolved problems in mathematics. In the summer of 2012, he published it. The proof is encompassed in four scientific articles that together fill about 500 pages, according to writer Marlene Weiss, who entered a mathematical realm where the language is so strange that hardly anybody but Mochizuki himself can find their way. He refuses to talk to journalists and did not respond to an interview request by Weiss. Undeterred, she provided her readers with a peek into a world where renowned mathematicians struggle to comprehend Mochizuki’s work and organize international conferences to grapple with his proof, a process that could take years. Weiss’s story is not a deep dive into the specifics of mathematics, but rather an effort to understand the culture of mathematics and a fascinating academic world where proofs can require hundreds of pages and reviewing them becomes an existential experience. “Can a story about a mathematician who refuses to explain his work be a delight?” asked Nancy Shute of NPR. “Yes, when it’s this Gogolesque romp.” Weiss said her story “is not only about beautiful mathematics, but also about a tragic case of mutual incomprehension – an issue people can relate to even without any mathematical background.”