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

4.6 out of 5 stars 142 customer reviews

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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

  • Perfect 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 (142 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Perfect 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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Format: Perfect Paperback
This is a captivating, illuminating, and deeply moving biography of the Indian mathematical genius S. Ramanujan. Genius is always enigmatic, and mathematical genius doubly so to the general reader for whom math will always be a closed book. One of the extraordinary things about this biography is Kanigel's gift for mathematical exposition at the layman level. As a mathematician myself, I can only say I've never seen its equal. Although to some extent he is helped by the "elementary" nature of much of R.'s work -- its gist can be grasped with only a basic understanding of calculus -- the task is still daunting. Yet everything is clearly and correctly explained, freshly, succinctly, memorably.

Kanigel's book is equally rich in human terms, too. His portrait of R. shows not only a genius but also a simple, spontaneous, likeable man. R. must have been the world's worst math tutor -- one shudders at the thought -- yet people liked him. This was a crucial factor in R.'s getting the opportunity to bring his gifts to full flower, for heaven and earth had to be moved. It's sad to think of the other Ramanujans in India and elsewhere who, crushed by life's hardships, were never able to develop or perhaps even recognize their gifts.

I take issue with the previous reviewer concerning Kanigel's treatment of Hardy. Hardy is a complex and fascinating figure in his own right and his personality needs to be explored in the context of his relationship with R. His homosexuality was a part of the constellation and a factor in his championing of the underdog (including women in mathematics), his openness to the unorthodox, and his willingness to take risks. Although bound by their common love for mathematics, the two men were otherwise poles apart both temperamentally and culturally.
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Format: Perfect 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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