What is the shortest possible route for a traveling salesman seeking to visit each city on a list exactly once and return to his city of origin? It sounds simple enough, yet the traveling salesman problem is one of the most intensely studied puzzles in applied mathematics--and it has defied solution to this day. In this book, William Cook takes readers on a mathematical excursion, picking up the salesman's trail in the 1800s when Irish mathematician W. R. Hamilton first defined the problem, and venturing to the furthest limits of today's state-of-the-art attempts to solve it.
Cook examines the origins and history of the salesman problem and explores its many important applications, from genome sequencing and designing computer processors to arranging music and hunting for planets. He looks at how computers stack up against the traveling salesman problem on a grand scale, and discusses how humans, unaided by computers, go about trying to solve the puzzle. Cook traces the salesman problem to the realms of neuroscience, psychology, and art, and he also challenges readers to tackle the problem themselves. The traveling salesman problem is--literally--a $1 million question. That's the prize the Clay Mathematics Institute is offering to anyone who can solve the problem or prove that it can't be done.
In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman travels to the very threshold of our understanding about the nature of complexity, and challenges you yourself to discover the solution to this captivating mathematical problem.
William J. Cook is the Chandler Family Chair and Professor in Industrial and Systems Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. He is the coauthor of The Traveling Salesman Problem: A Computational Study (Princeton).
"Fascinating . . . describes the history, personalities, challenges, applications and techniques used to find solutions of the famous 'Traveling Salesman Problem' and related problems."--Pradeep Mutalik, Wordplay blog at New York Times
"The Traveling Salesman Problem, or TSP, might seem to be of purely recreational interest . . . but in fact, as William J. Cook's In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman ably shows, the problem remains a topic of hot interest. . . . [This book is] an excellent place for an interested amateur to get the gist of these big ideas in a down-to-earth discussion. . . . Mr. Cook's affable style means that you're never too far from an enjoyable historical anecdote or an offbeat application of a problem that has interested some of the best minds in applied math for most of a century and that shows no signs of getting stale."--Jordan Ellenberg, Wall Street Journal
"The author, William Cook, writes in an easy to understand style and explores the various algorithms and branches of mathematics used to solve TSP, including the branch of mathematics known as linear programming, which is known to most of us through grade school algebra and word problems. . . . In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman is a thoroughly entertaining nerd-fest for the science minded reader."--Robert Schaefer, New York Journal of Books
"Along with a heady dose of algorithms, Cook also offers a diverting survey of the lore and history of the TSP. . . . The new volume addresses a wider audience [than The Traveling Salesman Problem: A Computational Study], with more pictures and fewer equations, explaining how things are done rather than how to do them, but it covers all the same territory as the larger book. The path through that territory seems reasonably close to optimal."--Brian Hayes, American Scientist
Table of Contents
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by William J. Cook: