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The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan Paperback – June 1, 1992

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This moving and astonishing biography tells the improbable story of India-born Srinavasa Ramanujan Iyengar, self-taught mathematical prodigy. In 1913 Ramanujan, a 25-year-old clerk who had flunked out of two colleges, wrote a letter filled with startlingly original theorems to eminent English mathematician G. H. Hardy. Struck by the Indian's genius, Hardy, member of the Cambridge Apostles and an obsessive cricket aficionado, brought Ramanujan to England. Over the next five years, the vegetarian Brahmin who claimed his discoveries were revealed to him by a Hindu goddess turned out influential mathematical propositions. Cut off from his young Indian wife left at home and emotionally neglected by fatherly yet aloof Hardy, Ramanujan returned to India in 1919, depressed, sullen and quarrelsome; he died one year later of tuberculosis. Kanigel ( Apprentice to Genius ) gives nontechnical readers the flavor of how Ramanujan arrived at his mathematical ideas, which are used today in cosmology and computer science. BOMC featured alternate; QPB alternate.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This biography traces the life of one of the greatest geniuses of the 20th century, Ramanujan. This incredibly brilliant Indian mathematician, working alone in relative obscurity and lacking the usual academic credentials, could easily have passed unnoticed. However, with the help of a handful of friends and the ultimate support of renowned English mathematician G.H. Hardy, his work was brought to the attention of the world. When he died in 1920 at 32 he had become a folk-hero in his own country. He left a rich lode of original mathematics, which is still being mined today. This extremely well-researched and well-written biography is a "must" addition to any library collection.
- Harold D. Shane, Baruch Coll., CUNY
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press (June 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671750615
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671750619
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Kanigel was born in Brooklyn, NY, but for most of his adult life has lived in Baltimore, MD, where he lives today. He has written seven books, on wildly differing subjects. His second, "The Man Who Knew Infinity," was named a National Book Critics Circle finalist, a Los Angeles book Prize finalist, a New York Public Library "Book to Remember," has been translated into Italian, German, Greek, Chinese, and other languages, and is being made into a film starring Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel. His latest book, for which he was named recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, is "On an Irish Island," set on a windswept island village off the coast of Ireland. He is currently finishing a biography of Jane Jacobs to be published by Knopf.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

110 of 117 people found the following review helpful By Charles Ashbacher HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
The life of Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar is truly the most amazing in all of science. A transcendent mathematical genius, he was both amazingly lucky and the victim of incredible misfortune. Quite possibly the greatest mathematical talent the world has ever known, his discoveries still astound and baffle those who read them.
Born to a poor, upper caste Brahmin family in the area near Madras in southern India, he was self-taught in mathematics and failed all other subjects. Only the kind patronage of those who recognized, but did not understand his talents kept him afloat in his early years.
After a few years of work as a clerk, he was the recipient of an amazing stroke of luck. An unsolicited letter with a few of his results was sent to some of the highest ranking mathematicians in England. G. H. Hardy chose to read it and after serious thought decided to respond. As Kanigel accurately relates, this was astonishing.
The idea that an upper class Englishman would read and take seriously a letter from an uneducated "native" in one of the far reaches of the empire was almost unthinkable. The author spends a great deal of time explaining Hardy's unorthodox nature. While lengthy, it is necessary to explain why Hardy took the trouble to read the letter and respond.
Kanigel also does an excellent job in describing the culture shock that Ramanujan encountered, although one suspects that he faced a bit more racism than is mentioned. While experiencing some difficulty, the British empire was still near the height of its power, and certainly many of those in the British Isles looked down upon their "subject peoples."
All of the human interest aspects of the Hardy-Ramanujan collaboration are told in great detail.
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56 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
Im not too fond of biographies, but I would give this book an exception.
The life of Ramanujan is amazing and one is pushed to only awe the limits of mind. Being an Indian, I can see Robert Kanigel has given a comprehensive treatment to all facets of the life of Ramanujan - his boyhood days in small town of Kumbakonam, his obsession with Maths, his seperation from Mother and his wife, his relationship with Hardy and others, his stay in London, and his final days. Kanigel has really done a wonderful job in depicting the Brahmin house-hold of the early 1900s. One could really imagine Ramanujan with a tuft and a religious symbol on forehead, but his mind calculating 10,000 th decimal of pi.
His purely professional relations with Hardy has also been very deftly depicted. How hard the days must have been! Being a Ramanujan's biography its hard to avoid mathematical formulas - and the author justifiably includes them when necessary. But even if you do not understand them - you can just wonder at the string of symbols joined together to purport some meaning.
The narration is truly captivating. It sends an horripulating feeling to the mind, when Hardy describes the first letter of formulas as "These must be true. If they are not, nobody would have the audacity to invent it."
The final days of Ramanujan are indeed sad and emotional and also beautifuly captured in the book. Typical is the life of geniuses - the world has hard time understanding them. This book is really worth in my library.
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53 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Wilberne PERSAUD on September 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
Kanigel's is the first book I've read on Ramanujan. It is well put together and explores the elements of the man, South India and Cambridge that led to the "collaboration" which allowed Ramanujan to flourish and be "discovered" by the West. Mathematics and Science is Planetary in scope, whereas cultures and colonialism, idiosyncracies of Universities, constraints of poverty, all in some way deny us the fruits of genius, whom I daresay are "normally" distributed in all populations! Nurture, in the true and fullest sense of the word, allows the light to shine through. Ramanujan's letter to Hardy is a classic! It is the essence of understatement, he may have been uneducated in the purely formal sense, but he was quite aware of the world he was to be reluctantly invited to join. His gifts are rare, his powers abundantly evident, there is no use debating how much longer he may have lived, if both he and Hardy understood the difficulties of a South Indian clerk attempting to live in Cambridge. The collaboration brings into sharp relief, the genarally accepted notion that in most endeavours of man, critical mass, or an informed bouncing wall/mirror brings out the best. Does Hingis give of her best against a weak opponent? Doesn't Michael Jordon reach deep when there is half a minute and five points to score? Would Karpov have ramped up his game had Fischer allowed him a match? Ramanujan may have contributed much more had he survived even two more Summers. As it stands his contribution is so outstanding that his notebooks still give up useful gems to knowledge-hungry post-graduate students. Kanigel's book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of Mathematics, anyone interested in harnessing the powers of genius, the relationships among nature and nurture, genes and culture etc. Good companion reading would include the lives of Richard Feynman, John Maynard Keynes and anything on the Manhattan Project to name but a few.
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