Sunday, May 23, 2010

Book Review - Mathematicians by Mariana Cook

Each mathematician, accomplished, perhaps famous, has a full page photograph and a facing page containing a brief autobiography or statement.  It can be read in a few hours.

Brandon Fradd, a Princeton math major, thought a photo book of Mathematicians would be well-received after seeing Scientists by Mariana Cook.  Good idea.  Her photographs are striking in black and white.  Most of the people were from Princeton (not a big surprise), but individuals from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and a few New York and California schools also made the list - 92 professors in total.

Each reader/viewer will respond differently to the brief personal essays.  Timothy Gowers (I have two of his works.) tries to relate his methods to research strategies, the practical rationality of his words shows a cool balance of thought, but Harold Kuhn's reference to all of his teachers by name and the sacrifices made by his parents and the role of chance in meeting people was too easy in which to relate. I cried while reading about him.  Of course, Andrew Wiles was photographed.  His humility, considering that he proved Fermat's Last Theorem - his childhood dream, was considerable.  William Thurston's text may have been the most important.  He stressed the pain of everyday public school instruction in math for himself, but he didn't allow it to kill his imagination.  He related how internal vision and analysis worked together: paragraphs suggesting the joyful magic in doing mathematics.

And yes, the correlation between mathematicians and the love of music is highly positively correlated.

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