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Idea Makers: Personal Perspectives on the Lives & Ideas of Some Notable People Hardcover – July 7, 2016
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"Ali: A Life" by Jonathan Eig
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One of the most gifted minds of our time explains, through short stories and anecdotes, how individuals fundamentally transform human thought and perspective. Profoundly humane and smart, this short volume will become a classic for those who want to understand and practice leadership. One leaves this read far smarter and far more confident in the future of humans.
JUAN ENRIQUEZ, Author of Evolving Ourselves and As the Future Catches You
A remarkable book with flashes of insight that will engage computer scientists, physicists, historians--but also fascinate a broader public as it weaves personal stories into the deep import of how and what they calculated.
PETER GALISON, Joseph Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University, Author of Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps & coauthor of Objectivity
How could anyone resist? Stephen Wolfram writes with so much more clarity and eloquence than one could reasonably expect of any groundbreaking scientist, and with so much more humanity and accessible ease than one would ever dare hope for from any genius. I've followed Stephen now with constant admiration for the better part of a lifetime, and I'm thrilled to get his illuminating and tremendously enjoyable essays--on everything from Steve Jobs to his own life--all brought together in one hardcover delight.
PICO IYER, Author of The Art of Stillness
Stephen Wolfram is a quirky, groundbreaking genius, destined for the science pantheon. So novel are his seemingly simple ideas that it may take half a century before the public adopts them. In his lively collection of biographical essays, Wolfram takes the measure of his predecessors and peers--filtering their achievements though his unique worldview. A great read and thought-provoking fun.
RUDY RUCKER, Author of Infinity of the Mind and The Ware Tetralogy
A gem. Most scientists and engineers do not think of historical figures as interesting people whose life stories are relevant to their current careers. Stephen Wolfram proves that curiosity and a bit of voyeurism can help you think better today and imagine a different future for tomorrow. Even if you hate history or biographies, if you like science, you'll like this book.
JAY WALKER, Founder of priceline.com | Curator of TEDMED & The Library of the History of Human Imagination
--Public Relations team at Wolfram Media
About the Author
Stephen Wolfram has had a unique trajectory in science, technology and business. Widely known for his discoveries in basic science and his groundbreaking 2002 book A New Kind of Science, he has spent three decades building what is now the Wolfram Language: the knowledge-based computer language that powers Mathematica and Wolfram|Alpha and has contributed to countless inventions and discoveries, as well as to the education of several generations of students.
Wolfram was born in London and educated at Eton, Oxford and Caltech, earning his PhD in physics in 1979 at the age of 20. After a brief but distinguished academic career, he founded Wolfram Research in 1987 and as CEO has built it into one of the world's most respected and innovative software companies, whose products are relied on by millions of people around the world.
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Perhaps the most interesting is Wolfram's default question at the end of every chapter of these late scientists, "What would have it been like if they used Wolfram Alpha or Mathematica?", the answer to most is that they would have been adventurers exploring new mathematical worlds and visualizations - which only makes you reflect on Wolfram's own contributions to furthering science, or the mathematical and computational tools to help do science.
Particularly original are the chapters on Lovelace and Babbage, armed with pictures, models, notes, letters that only in a few pages make you feel like you know the subjects of the chapter personally. His observation on Ramanujan as an mathematical "tinkerer" and "experimental mathematician" are very interesting. He writes "For Ramanujan, though, I suspects it was facts and results that were the center of his mathematical thinking and proofs felt a bit like some strange European custom...". It makes you ponder one how much the way we do rigorous mathematics through narrative and painful argumentation is not the way everyone has approached the subject.
I also loved Wolfram's mention of Hardy's "A Mathematician's Apology", that he thought was a complete disappointment when he read it as a child - which resonated heavily with me - since I was almost equally disappointed when I read the overrated work that many claim to be a defining work that represents their passion.
We can say that Wolfram is an experimental mathematician: He himself explains how he discovered the simple recursions (dynamical systems) which generate very complicated behaviour (you can see examples in his other book ANKS). When Feynman asked him how he comes up with such systems and if he has a trick that Feynman didn't know, he simply replied, "I tried".
Naturally, in the book, he focuses people like him who, through a wild trial-and-error process, discover "mathematical truths" as if they discover a drug in the lab.
The most impressive account is of Ramanujan's, most probably because what he achieved was very impressive. As the book provides the scans of the original documents, you can see the identities Ramanujan discovered by trial-and-error and one wonders how it might even be possible without a computer (as it would be rather easy thing to do using symbolic computation today!).
Anyone who is curious about how mathematics will be done in 21st century should read this book.
This book, "Idea Makers", is written from an insider. It is the real thing on several accounts.
Primo, Wolfram deserves to be in the book as an "idea maker", in his own right.
Secondo, Wolfram is the developer of a new way to do (useful) mathematics, an entirely new method, which allows us to tinker with mathematics, something that is an anathema to purists. Thus he depicts Ramanujan, not with the usual mathematical prism of the theorem crowds, but as someone who, starting with intuitions, does experiments till a mathematical identity feels right. As an eyewitness, I spent almost all my career in quant finance and probability toying with Mathematica (Stephen Wolfram's invention), and saw it accumulate special functions and tools. Mathematica allowed me to be a car mechanic who looked under the hood; such experience makes us look at the pompous theoretician as a cook would a nerdy chemist. The book is about this refreshing perspective: theorems were to Ramanujan a thing used by European mathematicians to convince other European mathematicians.
Terso, Wolfram is fair. He shows a fair --even adulatory-- portrait of Mandelbrot, in spite of attacks by the latter. Indeed, if Mandelbrot hated someone, the person has to be good and threatening. Otherwise he would not bother mentioning him.
Finally, many of the people involved are actually known either personally (Feynman, Mandelbrot, Minsky), or like Boole, Ramanujan, Godel, and Lebnitz, "connect" to the author.