The Man Who Knew Infinity : A Life of the Genius Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel
New York : Charles Scribner's Sons, 1991. Hardcover. 438 pages ; photographs ; 23 cm. $27.95 dust jacket with minimal wear. Gift inscription to half-title page. No marking elsewhere. Binding is firm.
A biography of the brilliant, self-taught Indian mathematician whose work contains some of the most beautiful ideas in the history of science, and whose tragically foreshortened life was a battlefield of East and West.
In 1913, a twenty-five-year-old Indian clerk with no formal education wrote a letter to G. H. Hardy, then widely acknowledged as the premier English mathematician of his time. Srinivasa Ramanujan begged Hardy's opinion regarding several ideas he had about numbers. Hardy realized that the letter was a work of genius.
Thus began one of the most productive and unusual scientific collaborations in history, that of an English don and an impoverished Hindu genius whose like has never been seen again. Hardy arranged for Ramanujan to sail for Cambridge, leaving behind his wife and mother in Madras. Ramanujan's isolation from his family and the intensity of his work eventually took their toll, and within seven years of leaving India he was dead. For Hardy the collaboration with Ramanujan was "the one truly romantic incident of my life."
Robert Kanigel's achievement is not simply to make Ramanujan's science accessible, but to show the pleasure, the excitement, and the love of numbers that inspired it. Here is a life and a life's work that resound a century later, a testimonial to the truth that genius can flower in the most unlikely places, and a biography with all the drama, the richness, and the cultural sweep of a fine historical novel.
Robert Kanigel, winner of the Grady-Stack Award for science writing, is also the author of Apprentice to Genius: The Making of a Scientific Dynasty. His journalism has been published in many magazines, including The New York Times Magazine, Psychology Today, Science 85, In Health, and The Sciences. He reviews regularly for The New York Times Book Review and the Los Angeles Times. He is contributing editor to Johns Hopkins Magazine. Mr. Kanigel teaches literary journalism at Johns Hopkins University and lives in Baltimore with his wife and son.
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