responses to the Secrets of Creation trilogy

"The Secrets of Creation trilogy is one of the most remarkable works of maths popularisation that I have read. Matthew Watkins has a gift for exposition, a gushing passion for his subject and a completely fresh way of approaching basic – and not so basic – mathematical ideas. He has written a brilliantly original work that is both whimsical and cosmically profound. I would recommend it to anyone. "

Alex Bellos, author of Alex's Adventures in Numberland and Alex Through the Looking-Glass

"The author is at pains to make his exposition readily accessible to any intelligent reader...This is an unusual and fascinating book, which even experts on prime number theory are likely to find of interest."

Times Higher Education, 9th June 2011

"Many thanks for sending me a copy of your fascinating-looking book... Although I have not had the opportunity to go through it yet in any detail, I should say that it is exactly the kind of thing that I would have enjoyed tremendously and found extremely illuminating in my younger days—in fact, I think this is still the case and I look forward enormously to looking at it in more detail when I get the time. I showed it to my wife, Vanessa, who is the head of the mathematics department at Abingdon School, and she was equally thrilled by the presentation. I hope that she may get in touch with you directly at some stage, since she is always on the look-out for innovative ways of getting her pupils to increase their interest in mathematics.

I very much wish you success in continuing this endeavour, as I notice that this is described as merely volume 1 in a series of 3."

Sir Roger Penrose (Oxford University)

"Very kind of you to send your new book. It's very well produced and attractive. I think you've made it really interesting, with well-chosen contents. The illustrations are excellent as well. It deserves to sell a lot of copies."

Ian Stewart (Warwick University)

"The pictures alone will attract readers on this stimulating odyssey into the magic and mystery of numbers."

Clifford Pickover

"[U]nlike the numerous popular books that have probed deeply into the beauty and mystery of the prime numbers and the Riemann Hypothesis (such as the ones by M. du Sautoy, J. Derbyshire, etc.), this one is unique in many aspects. It is the only book geared towards general audience that actually gives an account of the complexity of the distribution of the prime numbers while containing almost no equations.

So, how did the author achieve this? Through the radiant wit of the illustrations paired up with the exceptional writing. Additionally, his success is due to the simplicity of the explanations, which in an engaging manner reveal complex concepts with such clarity as to make the book accessible to children and non-mathematicians. Lastly, the exposition of the beauty of the harmonic decomposition is superb.


Every argument in the book is backed up vividly by numerous illustrative examples and user-friendly visualizations. The illustrator, Matt Tweed, has provided brilliant drawings that convey and explain the mathematical ideas and concepts as they develop throughout the book. What could have been rigorous text saturated with formulas is replaced by the many entertaining illustrations which also offer an intuitive understanding of the technical complexities behind the text...(My 3-year old son literally could not put this book down; he had many questions and comments about what happens in the drawings.)

This is a very unusual and inspiring book with the potential to spark interest even among experts on prime number theory. The exciting and original presentation is instructive and stimulates further study. Diving into the mystery of numbers in this book leaves one thirsting for the subsequent two volumes."

[full review here]

Ana Momidic-Reyna, MAA Reviews

"This is a fantastic book. A fabulous book. A splendiferous book!

It's easy enough to say what the book is about: it explains some extremely fascinating properties of the distribution of prime numbers. But that doesn't tell you why it's so great; books about prime numbers are a dime a dozen.

First of all, Watkins (with the help of the illustrations, which I'll get to shortly) manages to explain everything extremely clearly, beginning from first principles—and I really mean first principles; he begins with the definition of the natural numbers and goes from there. The only thing that could possibly stand between elementary school students and an appreciation of this book is their reading ability and attention span, NOT their mathematical abilities. But—and here is the truly astounding thing—I, a PhD student who has studied math my whole life, could not put this book down. Not only was I not bored, I learned new things! How is this possible? Partly, it was due to the fresh, creative, insightful way everything is explained, coupled with excellent writing; partly, it was due to the subject, which starts conventionally enough but soon wanders into fascinating territory unfamiliar to many mathematicians (including this one). A book like this, accessible to young children and engaging to adults, is a rare and wonderful accomplishment indeed!

Oh yes, and the illustrations. The illustrations!


I eagerly await Volume II (to be published next year)!"

Brent Yorgey (The Math Less Traveled blog)

"The first two Secrets of Creation books completely blew me away when I discovered them last year. I read through them in matter of days in a state of disbelief that there existed such an accessible and patient (and cartoon based!) explanation of the Riemann Hypothesis and related matters. It is a monumental achievement."

Paul Stepahin (The Exploratorium, San Francisco)

"This is one of the most interesting and well-constructed books I have ever had the pleasure to read.

As someone with a layman's interest in mathematics, I have always been curious about prime numbers. Their apparent randomness seems at odds with the reliable nature of mathematics and the physical world that can be described using mathematics. It's rather like being given some tools to build the universe with and finding that these tools are, with no apparent rhyme or reason, all slightly different lengths and colours. It seems like a tantalising clue, a code perhaps to something that lies 'deeper'. There even seems to be a vague sense of humour, a kind of mischievous fun in this dangling and tangled enigma.

It is with a definite sense of fun and adventure that Matthew Watkins and his illustrator Matt Tweed set about explaining how this enigma can start to be unraveled...a case study in how Maths should, or at least can, be taught. The use of clever and relevant cartoon illustrations brings a powerful visual dimension to many concepts that students can struggle to grasp through cold equations and formulas. As examples, the combination of words and pictures used to explain the mathematical constant e, is particularly clear. The illustration of primes using an exploding rope bridge is simple and brilliant. The subsequent exploration of the distribution of the primes through the examination of spirals and wave-forms carries a real sense of excitement and adventure, of uncovering hidden gems. This is tomb raiding for mathematics. It is a wonderful book and I can't wait to begin the sequel."

Andy Platt, reader review

"Forget the rest...

...this is the best! According to my academic record, I'm in the top 0.01% of mathematicians worldwide. And my work as a theoretical physicist has led to a much-more-than-passing interest in the Riemann Hypothesis. I'm a great believer in an intuitive understanding of the technical complexities I'm working on, so I've bought and read and re-read popular and semi-popular accounts of the Riemann Hypothesis investigations (de Sautoy, etc.).

And then: I found this!!! Although I studied mathematics at (allegedly) one of the world's leading institutions, I learned things - truly deep and important things - explained in simple terms !!! - that I was never taught in my degree classes. While other books are full of quotes by professional mathematicians about the "wonder, beauty, mystery, depth" etc. of the primes and the Riemann Hypothesis, THIS IS THE ONLY BOOK THAT ACTUALLY SHOWS YOU THAT PROFUNDITY!!!

Truly, if I ever get time once I'm finished with what I'm doing, I'll mount a crusade to ensure that no-one can get a degree in mathematics without reading this work. And once I'm done with that, I'll mount a crusade ... A-level maths ... GCSE maths ... because ANYONE can get this. I really believe that.

So... (with all due respect to the authors of the following) sell your copies of "Music of the Primes", "Prime Obsession" etc; and BUY THIS BOOK (and the following volumes). Trust me - you'll never regret it :)" reader review

"There are no equations to scare readers off. There are fun illustrations, by Matt Tweed. The concepts are deep. Matthew dives into the Prime Number Theorem, harmonic decomposition, spiral waves, and much more. The book reads like a fairy tale – a journey for children of all ages into the depths of truly simple mathematics. The book, in my judgment, lives up to its promise of being accessible. It is very entertaining yet remarkably rigorous. It renews my pleasure of finding joy in deep and simple things.


I'm absolutely thrilled to see a book that doesn't dumb down serious Math but simplifies it and communicates it so clearly. I remember having loved Math so much in junior high school and in high school where so much of what I did was to dive into interesting explorations. Then, when I got to college, Math became so dry and lifeless. I can only imagine what college Math would have been like with this book as a text. I sincerely believe that "The Mystery" is a real paradigm changer..."

Sol Lederman (Wild About Math! blog)

"Matthew Watkins' The Mystery of the Prime Numbers is an interesting read. Itís all you ever wanted to know about prime numbers – and then some...

During the discussions on number lines, counting numbers, division, Peano's Axioms and spirals, there are excursions along the way about religion, economics, philosophy and neuropsychology.

The strength of this volume is in the simplicity of the explanations. There are just a few formulas throughout the book (sadly, each equation in a book reduces its sales appeal) and most of the heavy lifting when it comes to explanation is in the illustrations.

For math teachers, the book could give you some ideas for activities for your students to better understand the nature of the number line, the distribution of primes or the nature of infinity."

Murray Bourne (squareCircleZ blog)

"[a] wonderful book"

Robin Williamson

"...a very nice book. I can't wait to see parts II and III...I had not come across the harmonic decomposition before, incidentally. Re publicity, why not send a review copies to Nature, Physics World, etc.?"

Prof. Brian Josephson (Nobel laureate, Cambridge University)

"I applaud your achievement: it's impressively done – well written, thought provoking, original and nicely produced."

Peter Tallack (The Science Factory)

"Matthew – I've just finished The Mystery of the Prime Numbers.

My background is in physics: developed this course at Columbia in the sixties: [link].

Your book leaves me hungering for the two volumes to come. Please let me know when they are available. I've read three other books on the Riemann Hypothesis (including du Sautoy's), and find yours clearer and more complete. A pedagogical tour de force.

Thanks for putting your vision out there and for taking such care to communicate it."

Robert W. Fuller

"I have been reading Matthew Watkins' book The Mystery of the Prime Numbers (the first volume of a proposed trilogy) recently with much interest.

Though Matthew is clearly a qualified mathematician and therefore well able to deal with issues relating to the primes in the accepted specialised language that fellow practitioners employ, he opts here for a user friendly approach that would be accessible to most lay people (with little or no grounding in mathematics).

What I like about this approach is that he clearly appreciates how apparently simple mathematical concepts lead to profound problems of a philosophical nature. So philosophical, psychological, religious and even economic observations are introduced early on in a much more wide ranging approach than is conventional, to unveiling the mystery of the primes.

I look forward to following Matthew's trail to see where it will lead in the further two volumes... I am sure that it will be interesting!"

Peter Collins

"A truly great book. And not just because of the exposition of the beauty of the harmonic decomposition, which is startling when you really stop to think about it. But also because Matthew gets us to stop and think far earlier in the road. Mulltiplication and addition are very different beasts, yet somewhere very early on in our learning we lose this deep subtlety, and never really recover it. Can't wait for Volume 2."

Mick Smith

"It is the first part of a trilogy which the author promises will culminate in a connection with quantum theory. I canít wait.

The most remarkable thing about this book is the presentation. You do not have to understand symbolic math. The ideas are communicated using many, many pictures and metaphors. For example, you have a number of apples and you canít arrange them into a rectangle (a row doesnít count as a rectangle) then the number is a prime. Technical terminology is avoided, especially when the terminology consists of ordinary English words with new meanings...

...this book makes it possible for someone who has no self-confidence in their ability to understand math to understand some deep stuff that many mathematicians find as astonishing as anything in math.

If we had a hundred authors writing books like this about different parts of math we would (in the long run) have fewer people who hate math or claim it all sounds like gibberish.

The long time reader of Gyre & Gimble will note that I have been saying for years that math should be explained like this. So naturally I am pleased to recommend this book. (Even so, all the times I taught primes I never thought of defining a prime number by saying you canít arrange your trinkets into a rectangle. Oh, the chagrinÖ)"

Charles Wells, from his Gyre & Gimble blog

"This is an outstanding and extremely well-written book which I would highly recommend to those readers who are curious about the nature of mathematics, and the structure of numbers. I had to re-read the book for this review, since I had read it some time ago when I first bought it. But it has stimulated me to go to the second volume in the series to see where Dr Matthew Watkins will lead us.

Watkins starts with simple intuitive ideas about ordinary counting numbers or positive integers, which of course are only a subset of the array of possibilities laid out on the real number line. While most of these possibilities (rational numbers, irrational numbers, real numbers, etc) have been studied in detail in the mathematical disciplines called real analysis and theory of numbers, prime numbers have perhaps been thought to be the most puzzling. Watkins begins an analysis of prime numbers, but proceeds to do so in a manner that is immediately comprehensible to the average reader with the usual meagre mathematical education and possessed of a certain amount of terror at the thought of anything more complex than doing simple sums. But he ends up surprising even those of us who have had some mathematical training. The text is studded throughout with lovely drawings by Matt Tweed that consistently add to the exposition, and is helpful for those, such as myself, who prefer to visualize mathematical concepts."

Padmanabhan Sudevan ( review)

"I have had a chance to go through your book, which I must say is excellent. Your presentation along with the illustrative examples (both your text and Matt Tweed's drawings) are most enjoyable and instructive."

Tom George

"I must admit that I rather enjoyed maths at school but I clearly remember the horror of learning calculus. Our teacher began the lesson with a stern warning: what was to follow would form the foundation of the entire year so we'd better all concentrate and pay careful attention. Ah, I tried, but my daydreaming kite of a mind spiralled out into the sky, and when eventually I reeled it back the board was covered in arcane symbols and we were being given impossible exercises to do. Nightmare! If only I'd had Matthew Watkins to guide me.

...he has produced a gem of a book Ė part textbook, part graphic novel, part philosophical tract, part detective story Ė that explains some pretty high level maths in terms that anyone (and I mean anyone) can understand.

By the end of the book I was impatient for more and happily there are a further two volumes to come. The Mystery of the Prime Numbers is destined to become a cult-classic but it deserves a much broader readership than that. If someone had shown me that the mathematical universe is as profoundly odd as it is strangely beautiful, or even that excursions into its nether regions can be thrilling, then Calculus would have been a doddle and my imagination would never have had cause to flee the confines of the classroom."

Andy Letcher

"THIS is the book you give non-mathematicians who don't think math has any "soul". I really believe that this book would be a wonderful gift for a clever 12 year old, and I may be shortchanging clever 10 year olds in that statement (Think Christmas). This is a book about mathematical ideas that seriously tries to avoid the barrier of mathematical symbols, and that is where Matt Tweed's creative illustrations come in...but don't be confused, this is not "baby math" or watered down math, this is Primes straight on without barriers...or at least with some of the confusing barriers removed. Ok, let me be blunt..this is the book I give my granddaughter, and the book I give my math colleges."

Pat Bellew

"I teach maths, so the process of explaining prime numbers and why we 'have to learn about them' is something I face several times a year. With the understanding within this book and the brilliance of the wit of the illustrations I have found it easy to make teaching this topic one of the most exciting on the curriculum.

The book takes you gently, yet quickly, through a well constructed ladder of mathematical concepts regarding primes. You could start with a pre-GCSE level of maths (as my students do). Due to the collaboration between the artist and the mathematician, the illustrations really do explain the ideas as they develop. In no time you can understand some of the biggest questions in mathematics and understand the delight to be found in them.

It's really good!"

Suzi ( review)

"It is very well written and beautifully illustrated by Matt Tweed! I am looking forward to volumes 2 and 3."

Jan van de Craats (University of Amsterdam)

"I think your book is really terrific. I especially like the "voice" of the writer which is very consistent, encouraging, kind...

Look forward to v.2"

Gordon Globus

"an eccentric and addictive read"

Karen Chimera, Heretic's Notebook blog

"Many years ago, when I was still mathematically literate for my age, number theory fascinated me. A lifetime later I was introduced to this book by a glowing review in a newspaper (I cannot now remember which one).

So I bought it. And never regretted it. One of the lovely things about maths is the way ideas from one area crop up in another, and this book delivers this in spades.

From a discussion of how different multiplication and addition are (sounds simple? - just you see)to the unordilness of factors, to prime numbers (including why 1 isn't a prime), to the use of "spirals" in the generation of those primes, the authors take you on a voyage of discovery.

If you have the slightest interest in number theory - or would like to see what mathemeticians make of numbers, buy this marvellous book."

Derek Howl ( review)

"I did study mathematics a long time ago.

I have also spent a lot of time coaching people for mathematics examinations. This book presents in a clear step by step method concepts from the basic (number line) to advanced (prime number theory and infinities) without great jumps in the level of complexity.

The brilliance and excitement of the mathematics will jump out for anyone interested in puzzles, logical construction or numbers.

I imagine this book could also convince a person who things math is boring and complicated that the subject can be fun and is not really that difficult after all.

Highly recommended, especially as a teaching tool."

Carol Chisholm ( review)

"Don't be put off by the alternative looking cover or the fact this is self-published. Or the intro. This and V2 are serious books about math and number. If you enjoyed Prime Obsession this is better.

What is really good about them is the author, being a trained mathematician, has spent a long time in the company of non-math people, and so has refined a good number of concepts down into a really easy-to-follow manner. In fact I would say far superior to most math text books or school courses. The illustrations are also fantastic and really help explain the concepts.

If you get to the end of V2 and if you don't have a math degree you'll still finally understand logarithms and more interestingly, the Riemann Hypothesis.

The author's personal views on number are interesting, but he clearly separates them from the hard math, and also points out most math people just calculate, and don't ask 'why'. So you can take or leave that element of the books."

"Steel Rat" ( review)

"The author and illustrator describe some of the mysteries of the distribution of primes, ending with Riemann's harmonic decomposition of the distribution. (If you don't understand what all that means, you will if you read the book and concentrate a lot). It is the first part of a trilogy which the author promises will culminate in a connection with quantum theory. I can't wait.

The most remarkable thing about this book is the presentation. You do not have to understand symbolic math. The ideas are communicated using many, many pictures and metaphors...Technical terminology is avoided, especially when the terminology consists of ordinary English words with new meanings. So a prime factorization of a number is a "cluster" -- and of course it really is since the order the primes occur in is irrelevant.

The author is not afraid of saying the same thing several times, using different metaphors and rewording. He will notice that someideas will make you uncomfortable, such as the prime number theorem which "ought" to tell you the exact number of primes less than a number instead of merely estimate it. (How many of your teachers ever admitted that an idea may make you uncomfortable and this is why it does...)

This makes me believe a reader who finds algebraic equations hard to understand and the nomenclature baffling can still get a reasonable mental picture of what primes are and what the Prime Number Theorem and Riemann's theorem on the distribution are actually saying. It won't be easy: such a reader will have to concentrate and stop and think a lot (and I hope doodle pictures) and at times it will be slow going. But this book makes it possible for someone who has no self-confidence in their ability to understand math to understand some deep stuff that many mathematicians find as astonishing as anything in math.

If we had a hundred authors writing books like this about different parts of math we would (in the long run) have fewer people who hate math or claim it all sounds like gibberish."

"Wellsoberlin" ( review)

"Wow! that's about all I can say for Vol. 1 of the trilogy. I loved it. I hope you'll be releasing Volume 2 and 3 on Kindle shortly as I also very much wish to read them ASAP."

Ken Lodding (personal email)

"Some day the ideas outlined in this astounding book will become part of a standard course in human education. The places in the mind where these mysteries reside are the places we need to rediscover before stupidity collapses us all."

Gnoni Watt ( review)