The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan

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Overview

With a passion for detail, Robert Kanigel takes us from to the slums of Madras to the courts of Cambridge University where Srinivasa Ramanujan, a young unschooled Indian clerk, tested his brilliant theories alongside G.H. Hardy, the great English mathematician. Ramanujan died at the age of thirty-two, but he left behind a magical and inspired legacy that is still being plumbed for its secrets today.

This is an inspiring tale of a scholarly pursuit that reads like an ...

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The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan

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Overview

With a passion for detail, Robert Kanigel takes us from to the slums of Madras to the courts of Cambridge University where Srinivasa Ramanujan, a young unschooled Indian clerk, tested his brilliant theories alongside G.H. Hardy, the great English mathematician. Ramanujan died at the age of thirty-two, but he left behind a magical and inspired legacy that is still being plumbed for its secrets today.

This is an inspiring tale of a scholarly pursuit that reads like an adventurous thriller. In 1913 a young, unschooled Indian clerk wrote a letter to G.H. Hardy, begging the preeminent English mathematician's opinion on several ideas he had about numbers and setting in motion one of the most productive collaborations ever chronicled. "An exquisite portrait."--Los Angeles Times.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This moving and astonishing biography tells the improbable story of India-born Srinavasa Ramanujan Iyengar, self-taught mathematical prodigy. In 1913 Ramanujan, a 25-year-old clerk who had flunked out of two colleges, wrote a letter filled with startlingly original theorems to eminent English mathematician G. H. Hardy. Struck by the Indian's genius, Hardy, member of the Cambridge Apostles and an obsessive cricket aficionado, brought Ramanujan to England. Over the next five years, the vegetarian Brahmin who claimed his discoveries were revealed to him by a Hindu goddess turned out influential mathematical propositions. Cut off from his young Indian wife left at home and emotionally neglected by fatherly yet aloof Hardy, Ramanujan returned to India in 1919, depressed, sullen and quarrelsome; he died one year later of tuberculosis. Kanigel Apprentice to Genius gives nontechnical readers the flavor of how Ramanujan arrived at his mathematical ideas, which are used today in cosmology and computer science. BOMC featured alternate; QPB alternate. May
Library Journal
This biography traces the life of one of the greatest geniuses of the 20th century, Ramanujan. This incredibly brilliant Indian mathematician, working alone in relative obscurity and lacking the usual academic credentials, could easily have passed unnoticed. However, with the help of a handful of friends and the ultimate support of renowned English mathematician G.H. Hardy, his work was brought to the attention of the world. When he died in 1920 at 32 he had become a folk-hero in his own country. He left a rich lode of original mathematics, which is still being mined today. This extremely well-researched and well-written biography is a ``must'' addition to any library collection.-- Harold D. Shane, Baruch Coll., CUNY
Booknews
A biography of the brilliant, self-taught Indian mathematician Iyengar Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920), who moved from the world of South India to the world of Cambridge U., where he formed a famous friendship with the legendary G.H. Hardy, and produced some of the most beautiful work in the history of mathematics. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780349104522
  • Publisher: Gardners Books
  • Publication date: 12/10/1992
  • Edition description: New

Meet the Author

Robert Kanigel is the author of six previous books. He has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Grady-Stack Award for science writing. His book The Man Who Knew Infinity was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Harvard Magazine, and Psychology Today. He has just retired as Professor of Science Writing at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts and now lives in Baltimore.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 31, 2012

    Awesome peek into the mind of a brilliant man

    I like biographies; especially biographies of mathematicians. Being a mathematician myself at Princeton, I had long wondered what actually transpires within the heads of great men when they snatch wonderful theorems out of thin air. Recent work into autism and psychology are starting to uncover some of these secrets (e.g. we learn that some of the hardest problems are solved by neural circuits that we'd never associated with mathematical thinking before, for instance visual and auditory), which perhaps explains why people like Ramanujan were never able to "explain by rigorous proof" some of their brilliant flashes. Kanigel does a fantastic job at hinting at and anticipating many of these recent discoveries, and his special emphasis on some of Ramanujan's peculiarities, personality and sentiments that would have inspired recent work into the workings of a mathematical mind. I especially liked (and read many times) the passages where Kanigel almost pays tribute to Ramanujan's "arrogant disapproval" of the method of "treading the groove" as Kanigel quotes him. Awesome indeed. And it makes us all appreciate genius the more for it. The only issue I found with this book was due to what may be an omission. Kanigel described the incident where Hardy visited an ill Ramanujan at the hospital and talked about the famous story of the boring "taxicab" number, and Ramanujan immediately told him of an interesting property. Kanigel says that Hardy recognized the genius of the question and immediately posed a related question back to Ramanujan. Kanigel says that there is a sense in which Hardy's response itself is one which only another great mathematical mind would have come up with, rather than a hundred other alternative extensions or corollaries one could have followed, but he never describes why that is. To a non mathematician looking for an answer to this question, I am sad to say you will not find it in the pages of this book. Nonetheless, this is one joyride of a book. A roller coaster ride into the brain of a genius. Read it and maybe this will spark (or reignite) your interest in Mathematics too.

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  • Posted October 18, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    very informative

    probably the single best bio on the genius Ramanujan.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2007

    Missed chance

    When reading this book I wondered for whom it might have been written. If you are not interested in maths, you won't read this book. If you are interested in maths however you will see that there is not enough maths in this book.There is much too much trivia in this book and it is longwinded. I can only dream how good this book could have been if it were written by William Dunham or P.J. Nahin to name only two authors who master the art of writing a mix of history and maths.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2004

    Marvellous

    I have read a quiet of number of books on the history of the mathematics and mathematician. Some of them are painful to the extent that you will struggle to follow the math. But this is the best. The author has married math and history beautifully that it should not be difficult for a non-math guy to follow the story. It is a must read for all people regardless of whether you want to learn math or not.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2002

    A most evocative and superb book

    This is one of the best modern books I have read. This is not a biography. It is a beautiful portrait, a piece of superb writing, an introduction to genius, and a marvellous description of the contrast between two vastly different cultures. It is one of those excellent books where both the subject and the writing are extremely appealing. Whether you have any interest in Mathematics or not, you may find the book to be highly captivating.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2000

    Like Konishi I find this book has major problems.

    The intricate details of Ramanujan life and science is interesting and well written. The mass of political correctness is boring. I know the British rule of India was bad, that people in the 19th century were bigots, black, white and left. His use of mathematics in this biography is on the level of college algebra. Considering that most people today believe in global warming, astrology, health and enviormental studies then this was probably to technical for the so called 'educated americans' i.e. modern liberal arts people. Physicists and Mathematicians should find something a bit more challenging. This is light reading for an single afternoon for anyone educated in mathematics, physics or some other hard science.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2000

    Ramanujan and the British Education System

    A great read! I truly could not put this one down. The rich details surrounding Ramanujan's life are presented as more than a backdrop, but as a subject all of it's own -- Cambridge, Trinity College, G.H. Hardy, and the British influence upon the Indian education system. The author's inclusive style provides much breadth, leading the reader wonderfully through educational arenas rich with history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2000

    Genius unrecognized

    Srinivasa Ramanujan was an Indian mathematician before India was liberated from British rule in the early 20th century. Using outdated textbooks, he taught himself advanced algebra, geometry and calculus but was limited in his realizable potential until a letter to GH Hardy inquiring about some of his theories caught the attention of Hardy, who recognized his brilliance and brought him to England to study. Ramanujan went on to espouse his theories on infinite series, among others still being evaluated today. Sadly, Ramanujan died of an illness contracted while studying in England and so never fully realized his potential or contribution.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2009

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