Most helpful positive review
195 of 204 people found the following review helpful
Best suited for math lovers
on December 20, 2013
First of all, let's be honest and not mislead the general reader - this book covers a lot of highly advanced math. The author, Edward Frenkel, likely does as well as anyone could to outline the math in a way that a non-specialist audience can usefully grasp if they put in considerable effort and re-reading, but even then the reader needs to be comfortable with math at least at the undergrad level (calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, etc.). Don't expect to really 'understand' what Frenkel is talking about unless you have considerably greater math background, say grad school level and prior familiarity with the particular areas of math Frenkel covers.
Being an engineer, I fall into the former category and came to this book already loving math, and I found the math in this book to often be quite tough going (especially in the second half of the book), though I did get a rough sense of what he was talking about (and I followed the advice to keep going in the tougher parts rather than getting bogged down). True, I could re-read the whole book to get a better understanding, but realistically it would make more sense to bone up on the prerequisite math using other books and then return to this book in a few years (yes, that long). Because I feel that the accessibility of this book for the general reader has been overstated by the book's endorsers and overestimated by the author, I'm deducting a star.
That said, I did enjoy this book greatly and am glad that I read it. Besides the exposure to high-level math and the associated research and discovery process (at both the individual and collaborative levels), I found this window into Russian culture fascinating, and frankly I was rather surprised to see that the culture matches many of the stereotypes quite well (Frenkel relates many memorable stories in this regard). I was also inspired to see Frenkel's passion for math, his perseverance against serious adversity, and his resulting remarkable achievements, which he describes with considerable humility, all things considered. In that regard, I was also awed, yet again, to see the reach of some human minds (alas, not mine!) into the wondrous parallel universe of Platonic objective truth which we call 'mathematics' (or more precisely, perhaps we should give a different name to that universe, since 'mathematics' only reflects what we've discovered and mapped so far).
Summing up, I can definitely recommend this book to anyone who already loves math and has decent mathematical 'maturity' in the sense of being able to handle math at a relatively abstract level. Those who don't have at least that background could mostly skip the math in the book and instead focus on the memoir aspect. Whether that would be worthwhile depends on the specific interests of the reader, and I only can say that I and apparently many other readers greatly enjoyed that aspect.