The Corner

Author Confessions

Lots of readers who don’t have a sound card, or can’t listen for one reason or another, grumble that we don’t post a transcript of Radio Derb. Well, it’s policy: we don’t post a transcript because we want you to listen. We think you read too much.

There is always a compromise to be found, though, and with Kathryn’s permission I shall try the following from now on, except when I forget.

I always get a good email-bag from Radio Derb, with lots of listeners declaring their favorite segment. From now on, if there’s a clear favorite among the segments, I’ll post the transcript of just that one segment on the Corner.

Clear favorite so far this week was my “author confession” segment. Transcript below.


Listeners, I have a confession to make. Three years ago I published a nonfiction book titled Prime Obsession. In that book I told the story of how, back in the mid 19th century, a young German mathematician named Bernhard Riemann, investigating the issue of how many prime numbers there are up to any given number, came up with a challenging hypothesis that no-one has been able to prove. I tracked the attempts of mathematicians to prove this hypothesis, through the 19th and 20th centuries, down to the present day. Well, folks, I made it all up. Bernhard Riemann was not the son of a German country parson, but the illegitimate love child of Jane Austen by Sir Walter Scott. He did not grow up to be a shy scholar toiling away at higher mathematics in Goettingen University; he was in fact a prize-fighter, trapeze artist, and rodeo rider who emigrated to the U.S.A. during the 1849 Gold Rush, and became the gay lover of bachelor president James Buchanan. He did not die of TB in the Italian alps; he succumbed to absinthe addiction and shot himself in a fit of despair while attending a performance of Meyerbeer’s Dinorah at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. And furthermore, his hypothesis did not concern the distribution of prime numbers at all; it was only a conjecture about where flies go in the winter. There, now, my conscience is clear. I am sorry, Oprah—sorry, sorry, sorry. Please don’t make me come on your show to be humiliated.

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