The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano

After reading a slew of classics I needed to mix it up with something lighter. This book did the trick. It was intelligent, somewhat depressing, but overall it was a quick and enjoyable read. The Solitude of Prime Numbers is a conceit of the idea that prime numbers are a lonely thing; it can only be divided by one and itself, never fully fitting with another. Taking this idea one step further, twin primes: "pairs of numbers that are close to each other, almost neighbors, but between them there is always an even number that prevents them from touching." Alice and Mattie represent those twin primes, developing a life-long friendship, drawn together by their tragic pasts; two people isolated from the world, but destined to find each other.
If you have the patience to go on counting, you discover that these pairs gradually become rarer. You encounter increasingly isolated primes, lost in that silent, measured space made only of ciphers, and you develop a distressing presentiment that the pairs encountered up until that point were accidental, that solitude is the true destiny.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers examines what it means to be lonely and the complexity of human relationships. While it's themes are heavy and on the depressing side, it's tone is compassionate and unassuming. It's not a life-changing, must-read book, but it's touching and engaging. If you are a human who has ever felt alone, you will be able to relate to this book.

Publisher: Penguin, 2008


  1. Cool review, Brenna - this is another novel that's been on my Amazon wishlist since I first heard about it. I like the symbolism of the twin primes - that's a really clear way to introduce the idea of loneliness and isolation. I'm intrigued! Thanks!

  2. I totally loved this book. I rarely reread, but probably would with this one. Nice review Brenna

  3. I agree with you totally. Didn't rock my world, but definitely decent.

  4. Hmm, not sure I'd call it a "light" read... pretty gloomy stuff. I know there was a lot of symbolism and stuff that meant I should have liked it a lot more than I did, but The Solitude of Prime Numbers felt so controlled and purposely downbeat. Obviously not every book has to have a happy ending, but the book didn't build towards anything. There were two characters I constantly wanted to know more about (a feeling that was never really fulfilled) and a string of occurrences. It never felt coherent. An okay book, particularly recommended for the quieter, lonelier among us, but not a must-read by any means...

  5. Greg, Thanks! Glad you found this helpful.

    Diane, Thank you. I rarely reread as well.

    Christine, Exactly.

    Biblibio, I guess I meant that it was light in terms of readability, not in terms of subject matter. However, I didn't think it was all that downbeat because Giordano's tone was so compassionate. Certain ideas were downbeat, but the way he presented them didn't make it so depressing. I also felt the ending was very European. They don't often offer a traditional American ending where everything is wrapped up. And I actually thought it was fitting with the rest of the story line, for reasons I won't mention because of spoilers.

  6. I'm curious about this one, and your review is one among many that say it was pretty much okay. I may have to just start reading it and see what I think of the writing and if the story grabs me.