The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan

The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan

Robert Kanigel

Language: English

Pages: 464

ISBN: 1476763496

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In 1913, a young unschooled Indian clerk wrote a letter to G H Hardy, begging the preeminent English mathematician's opinion on several ideas he had about numbers. Realizing the letter was the work of a genius, Hardy arranged for Srinivasa Ramanujan to come to England. Thus began one of the most improbable and productive collaborations ever chronicled. With a passion for rich and evocative detail, Robert Kanigel takes us from the temples and slums of Madras to the courts and chapels of Cambridge University, where the devout Hindu Ramanujan, "the Prince of Intuition," tested his brilliant theories alongside the sophisticated and eccentric Hardy, "the Apostle of Proof." In time, Ramanujan's creative intensity took its toll: he died at the age of thirty-two and left behind a magical and inspired legacy that is still being plumbed for its secrets today.

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views were decidedly left-wing. Until about 1927, he was active in the National Union of Scientific Workers, even made recruiting speeches on its behalf. In one, as J. B. S. Haldane paraphrased it later, he said to his audience of scientists “that although our jobs were very different from a coalminer’s, we were much closer to coalminers than capitalists. At least we and the miners were both skilled workers, not exploiters of other people’s work, and if there was going to be a line-up he was with

threshold for paying full dues. Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society (February 1917), 19. work with Narayana Iyer. S. R. Ranganathan, 31. math books from K. B. Madhava. P. K. Srinivasan, 132. Ramanujan at the Connemara. S. R. Ranganathan, 31. Serve food in his hand. Ibid., 90. his mother made it for him. Interview, Janaki. a little science experiment. Interview, Janaki. Ashis Nandy, 131, speaks of Ramanujan “teaching her the elements of science,” but places this after Ramanujan’s

46. “customary deference of those days.” Mary Cartwright, “Moments in a Girl’s Life,” unpublished manuscript, 5. “a delightful time.” Letter, Hardy to president of Princeton University, 24 April 1929. (The letterhead is that of the Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C.) Ruth as familiar as Hobbs. “He had a similar passion for baseball [as for cricket], which he watched whenever he could when he was in the States.” From a journal referee’s report commenting on an article about Ramanujan and Hardy.

had not even supplied the language of his earlier letters; that, too, had been the work of his superior. As for his own religious scruples, or that of his family, or the trip to Namakkal, Ramanujan said nothing. The whole scheme may have been the work of Narayana Iyer, or at least carried out with his willing complicity. In any case, it would not be the only time Ramanujan bent the truth to avert embarrassment. Visiting Kumbakonam early in 1914, just before leaving for England, he told the

built in 1823, two centuries or so after most of the rest of the college. Hardy lived on the second floor of Staircase A, just over the portal leading out to the Avenue, a double row of two-hundred-year-old lime trees parading across the Backs. It was a long haul from the Nevilles’ to Hardy’s rooms—across the bridge at the far end of town to Midsummer Common, along one of several footpaths crossing it, and onto Park Parade; then by one or another old cobblestoned street to the Great Gate, and

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