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I am a confirmed mathochist. My background is in analysis, and fairly traditional analysis at that; mainly harmonic functions, subharmonic functions and boundary behaviour of functions, but I have for many years had an interest in number theory (who hasn't?) without ever having the time to indulge this interest very much.

Having recently retired from teaching, I now do have the time, and would like to look more deeply into a branch of number theory in which my previous experience might still be useful, and in particular, I would be interested to find out more about the interplay between elliptic curves, complex multiplication, modular groups etc.

I am pretty confident in my background with respect to complex analysis, and I have a working knowledge of the basics of p-adic numbers, but my algebra background is much, much weaker: just what I can remember from courses many years ago in groups, rings, fields and Galois Theory, and absolutely no knowledge of the machinery of homolgy/cohomology, and very little of algebraic geometry (I once read the first 2-3 chapters of Fulton before getting bored and going back to analysis!)

Alas, I now no longer have easy access to a good academic library, so I would need to puchase any text(s) needed, unless any good ones happen to be available online.

My request would then be this:

What text(s) would you recommend for someone who wants to find out more about elliptic curves, complex multiplication and modular groups, bearing in mind that I am very unlikely to want to do any original research, and it is all "just for fun"?

Many thanks for your time!

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Look at "Elliptic Curves: Function Theory, Geometry, Arithmetic" by McKean and Moll. I haven't looked at this in a while, but its approach and range of topics should be attractive to you. It has quite positive reviews on Amazon. – KCd Jun 19 '12 at 23:29
Thanks - I had never heard of this one before, but looks like it could be a good read. – Old John Jun 20 '12 at 7:00
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Have a look at Koblitz: Introduction to Elliptic Curves and Modular Forms, and also at Knapp: Elliptic Curves. I prefer the latter, since it is more in depth, but it is also more algebro-geometric. The former has a much stronger complex analysis slant, especially at the beginning, which might make the entry easier. So you could try reading Koblitz first, and then Knapp (there will be a lot of overlap, of course).

The most thorough text on elliptic curves is Silverman: Arithmetic of Elliptic Curves. But it is considerably more algebro-geometric than the above two, and it has very little material on modular forms. So I am not sure it is the right entry text for you.

None of these cover complex multiplication. For that, you could have a look at Silverman: Advanced Topics in the Arithmetic of Elliptic Curves. My feeling is that to appreciate the theory of complex multiplication, it would help to have seen class field theory beforehand. But Silverman does review the main results of class field theory, so perhaps you can dive straight in, after having worked through one of the basic texts above.

"Just for fun" is a great premise to start learning elliptic curves, since it really is great fun!

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Many thanks for these suggestions. I remember looking briefly at Silverman in a library a few years ago, and thought it looked a bit tough, so maybe Koblitz might be a good starting point. – Old John Jun 19 '12 at 8:06
I second that. You will enjoy Koblitz's book. – Theon Alexander Aug 9 '14 at 16:27

A really good but underrated book that is freely available online is Milne's Elliptic Curves. Its treatment of elliptic curves is certainly less detailed than Silverman's but it is fairly through and yet accessible. He also has notes on complex multiplication. Also Silverman and Tate's book could give you a cursory exposure to elliptic curves and assumes nothing but a knowledge of groups.

Now with your experience in complex analysis, maybe the study of modular forms and analytic number theory would be of interest to you? Apostol has a series of two books (Analytic Number Theory and Modular Functions and Dirichlet Series) that develop these in some detail and are very classic books. Ram Murty's book has a ton of exercises which is always good when learning.

A knowledge of analytic number theory and modular forms will certainly not go to waste if you are interested in elliptic curves and are very interesting subjects in themselves as well.

EDIT: Since Milne clicks well with you maybe you should take a look at his entire collection of notes and books? He has stuff on algebra so you can use those to brush up on it.

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PS: You could probably find Apostol's analytic number theory book online. – Eugene Jun 19 '12 at 8:15
Many thanks for these! Milne looks very good at first glance. I once read most of the first volume of Apostol, but never looked at the second volume, so I will see if I can a look at it. Murty sounds fascinating too. – Old John Jun 19 '12 at 8:21
@Eugene The whole Milne collection looks amazing. It is a very noble gesture he is making! – Old John Jun 19 '12 at 8:38
@OldJohn Indeed. I hope that it will benefit you! – Eugene Jun 19 '12 at 8:42
Milne studied with Fields Medalist John T. Tate, and is one of the main experts in the field. His material is great. In Koblitz's book you will see a hands-on approach which will eventually lead you to one of the Millennium Problems. – Theon Alexander Aug 9 '14 at 16:29

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