Bill Cook Releases New Book In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman: Mathematics at the Limits of Computation

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After much anticipation, William J. “Bill” Cook, Chandler Family Chair and professor in the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, has released his new book In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman: Mathematics at the Limits of Computation. Cook, also an adjunct professor in the School of Mathematics, is the author or editor of seven books, including The Traveling Salesman Problem: A Computational Study which was released in 2006.

In his newest book, Cook examines the origins and history of the traveling salesman problem, one of the great unsolved problems in computational mathematics, and explores its many important applications.

Book summary from Princeton University Press:

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.

To coincide with the release of his latest book, Cook recently wrote an article for The New York Times titled “The Problem of the Traveling Politician,” using the traveling salesman problem to suggest optimal travel routes that will save time and gasoline for politicians who are preparing to hit the campaign trail.  His book once again appeared in The New York Times’ blog “Wordplay,” where writer Pradeep Mutalik references Cook’s work on the traveling salesman problem and related problems that cannot be solved in reasonable time by the world’s fastest computers. Additionally, Kyle Munson, an Iowa columnist for the Des Moines Register, revealed his plans to follow Cook’s suggested campaign routes in a blog titled “99 counties, 1 week, 1 Iowa columnist.”


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Ashley Daniel
  • Created:01/18/2012
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016