I have decided that this year I should read more about mathematicians and their lives. Therefore, my first on this list was a well-know book: “A Mathematician’s Apology” by G.H. Hardy. I have the edition which has a Foreword by C.P. Snow and it is indeed a great addition. If you want to find out more about what math-related book I read you can follow me on Goodreads, I try to also write some short reviews for every book I have read.
I was quite excited to read about the mathematician who discovered Ramanujan and how that really happened. I have to confess that the Foreword was extremely useful and it helped me understand some subtleties from the actual Apology than I first thought. The book made me first confused, than annoyed (when I just didn’t agree with his point) and than sad and understanding in the end. It is indeed the journey of a genius who believes that he has not accomplished much in life, but loves his job and believes that there is nothing else in whole world that could have done. It was easily to observe that Hardy has written this book when his mathematical powers were declining and you feel sorry for him because of this at one point.
While reading this book some ideas just got stuck in my mind and whatever I was doing they just not disappeared. So, I thought I will share them with you.
- Hardy believed that age matters for mathematical discoveries. He talks about Galois, Abel and Ramanujan who did incredible work at an early age, but believes that as you get older you just cannot do math anymore. His example was Newton, who gave up mathematics at fifty. I know that he was writing this when his mathematical powers were slowly disappearing, but I still believe this is not accurate. I have tried to find some counter examples and this is what I got: Eugène Ehrhart (29 April 1906 Guebwiller – 17 January 2000 Strasbourg) was a French mathematician who introduced Ehrhart polynomials in the 1960s. Ehrhart received his high school diploma at the age of 22. He was a mathematics teacher in several high schools, and did mathematics research on his own time. He started publishing in mathematics in his 40s, and finished his PhD thesis at the age of 60. (Source: Wikipedia) I think there is nothing I can add here and that it proves my point. What do you think about it?
- Quote: “It is quite true that most people can do nothing well. If so, it matters very little what career they choose, and there is really nothing more to say about it.” I completely disagree with this and there is nothing more to say. I have always considered that every single person has a gift – something that he/she can do very well.
- I totally like his point about the usefulness of mathematics vs chess: “[…] if a chess problem is, in the crude sense, useless, then that is equally true of most of the best mathematics” but “no chess problem has ever affected the general development of scientific thought; Pythagoras, Newton, Einstein have in their times changed its whole direction […] the inferiority of the chess problem, […], lies not in its consequences but in its content.”
- One of my favorite quotes: “A mathematical proof should resemble a simple and clear-cut constellation, not a scattered cluster in the Milky Way.”
Did you read this book? I would love to know what you think about it or Hardy’s ideas in general.
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Lots of love and don’t forget that maths is everywhere! Enjoy!