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Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure

2016/10/04

The Fields Medal. A genius Mathematician racing against time. Will he make it before he’s 40? The journal of his adventure is what this book is about. Along with his fears, the way he measures himself against other giants (does he really have to? To the reader it may seem he does not, but to him is matters a lot; the top is the top). And yes, it is written as a diary.

I will not pretend that I knew, or still understand anything about Landau damping. Or even the Boltzmann equation. In fact I know only of a handful of people who could recognise the complete notation used. Interestingly, this does not make the book less enjoyable. It took me over a year since I first found out about the book, started reading it and then finishing it. And you know what? It was not the Mathematics that put it to a pause. It was a long chapter on music, on stuff that I could follow in complete detail. When I reached there I paused in order to find the proper time to enjoy the written soundtrack. Well that time came about a year later.

Far too many top Mathematicians and Mathematical Physicists parade in the book. Perelman‘s antics and perseverance get explained. Luckily some simpler (to grasp, not solve) problems too, the Collatz for example. As it happens I too use it sometimes to block my mind from interference. But that’s where the similarities with the author stop. The other thing that felt close to heart was Coq. I always had ideas about using it in ways not expected by its creators, but my academic limited attention per suject blocked this.

All in all a fascinating read about a man, his passion and his target. You can safely ignore the Mathematics. It is hard enough for the professionals and is there to show what he dealt with. The pain is described not in algebraic notation but with plain alphabet.

 

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