What I Learned from Reading “Gamma: Exploring Euler’s Constant” by Julian Havil: Part 1

When I researching for my series of posts on conditional convergence, especially examples related to the constant \gamma, the reference Gamma: Exploring Euler’s Constant by Julian Havil kept popping up. Finally, I decided to splurge for the book, expecting a decent popular account of this number. After all, I’m a professional mathematician, and I took a graduate level class in analytic number theory. In short, I don’t expect to learn a whole lot when reading a popular science book other than perhaps some new pedagogical insights.

Boy, was I wrong. As I turned every page, it seemed I hit a new factoid that I had not known before.

In this series, I’d like to compile some of my favorites — while giving the book a very high recommendation.

green lineIt is well known the harmonic series diverges:

\displaystyle 1 + \frac{1}{2} + \frac{1}{3} + \frac{1}{4} + \dots = \infty.

This means that, no matter what number N you choose, I can find a number n so that

\displaystyle 1 + \frac{1}{2} + \frac{1}{3} + \frac{1}{4} + \dots + \frac{1}{n} > N.

What I didn’t know (p. 23 of Gamma) is that, in 1968, somebody actually figured out the precise number of terms that are needed for the sum on the left hand side to exceed 100. Here’s the answer:


With one fewer term, the sum is a little less than 100.

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  1. What I Learned by Reading “Gamma: Exploring Euler’s Constant” by Julian Havil: Index | Mean Green Math

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