In 1913, a young unschooled Indian clerk wrote a letter to G H Hardy, begging the pre-eminent English mathematician's opinion on several ideas he had about numbers. Realising the letter was the work of a genius, Hardy arranged for Srinivasa Ramanujan to come to England. Thus began one of the most improbable and productive collaborations ever chronicled. With a passion for rich and evocative detail, Robert Kanigel takes us from the temples and slums of Madras to the courts and chapels of Cambridge University, where the devout Hindu Ramanujan, 'the Prince of Intuition,' tested his brilliant theories alongside the sophisticated and eccentric Hardy, 'the Apostle of Proof'. In time, Ramanujan's creative intensity took its toll: he died at the age of thirty-two and left behind a magical and inspired legacy that is still being plumbed for its secrets today.
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(198mm x 134mm x 31mm)
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
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US Kirkus Review »
Destructive forces of East and West combine to crush the flower of genius in this brilliantly realized biography of a self-taught, turn-of-the-century mathematician. Kanigel (Literary Journalism/Johns Hopkins) is the author of Apprentice to Genius (1986). Born in 1881 to humble circumstances in a southern Indian backwater, Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar received little encouragement in his growing obsession for mathematics - fueled particularly by his discovery of a 40-year-old math book written by an English tutor. Nevertheless, Ramanujan began compulsively filling his own notebooks with scribbled mathematical theorems, heedless of the fact that he was flunking out of one after another of the area's universities, all designed by the British to train native administrators rather than cultivate Indian genius. At age 26, unemployable, misunderstood, and desperate for sponsorship, Ramanujan mailed a sample of his work to eminent young British mathematician G.H. Hardy, initiating what would become one of the surprising discoveries of 20th-century mathematics - Ramanujan's brilliant, still insufficiently plumbed understanding of the nature of numbers. Greatly impressed, Hardy arranged for Ramanujan to join him in Cambridge, where the Indian enjoyed the joys of subsidized intellectual labor and international appreciation at the price of giving up the daily spiritual sustenance provided by his own culture. The trade-off proved too much. Prevented from returning to India once WW I began, cut off from the spiritual element he'd always integrated into his mathematical theories, and with only ascetic atheist Hardy for company, Ramanujan went into a steep physical and spiritual decline. Seven years after his arrival in England, he died - at age 33. Kanigel's particular interest in how primitive superstition, India's bureaucratic mind-set, English spiritual asceticism, and a Western war combined to destroy the miracle of Ramanujan's genius adds deeper dimensions to the already fascinating story of a difficult but astoundingly fruitful cross-cultural collaboration. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Robert Kanigel
Robert Kanigel is the author of six other books, including The Man Who Knew Infinity. After 13 years as professor of science writing at MIT, he has returned to full-time writing in Baltimore.