Sports commentators and News editors use the term “Genius” so frequently that sometimes we forget the real meaning of the term. Maybe because of lack of better words, the likes of Ramanujan are also defined as genius in modern worlds. Robert Kanigel wrote this biography on one of the most popular and mysterious mathematician, who has inspired many generations of mathematician to be more curious about the numbers.
Born on December 22, 1887, Srinivasa Ramanujan took the world by surprise about his findings on number theories and infinite series. With absolute no formal education on the subject, living without the access of mathematical world of the west, he ended up as Fellow of Royal Society of England (FRS)
This is no ordinary lyrical biography on someone popular. The author escaped the comfort zone of mere storytelling in fairy tale style but explained a great deal of background of the life in South India in 19th century, the Bhramin upbringing of Ramanujan, his difficulties, family history and also the personalities that influenced him. Later in the book, the author has also spared enough space for G. H. Hardy, the mathematician who is responsible for breaking Ramanujan to the western world.
In the short lifetime of 32 years, he not only tasted the wine of success, but also had to suffer many blows of disappointment. Such was his interest in the mathematics that he continuesly ignored other subjects and even failed to be graduate from the universities in South India. Born in an extremely religious Brahmin family, Ramanujan’s extreme belief in himself made him keep a journal of his findings in a books which later became holy grail for the future mathematicians. In 1912-13, working as a clerk in Post office, he started contacting western mathematicians among which G.H Hardy of Cambridge University showed the most interest in him and invited him to Cambridge to further work on his findings, and then there was no looking back for Ramanujan. However, the road to England was not an easy one for him. The year was 1914, and there was lot of gap between The East and The West. Vegetarian food, western clothes & culture, and not to discount the language were few of the challenges he faced in the initial months. 1914 was also the year of World War I, which was going to add more bumpers to his British ride.
Ramanujan was no ordinary mathematician. Because of his lack of formal training in maths, most of his papers and findings were oddly strange to fellow mathematicians . Many of his findings were actually the re-discovery of theories which were already proved before his time, but because of his absence of knowledge of western mathematicians’ work, he had to re-work on the proven theories. Another thing strange about his results were absence of proof, which are considered the must. During his lifetime, he independently contributed more than 3900 results, mostly related to infinities and equations.
He died with a liver infection in 1920. Even after his death, his notebooks were used by many mathematicians to further take his research on infinities. In India, he is considered as one of the brightest minds and symbol of genius. His birthday is considered as National Mathematics day and he has been also immortalized as postal stamp.
I enjoyed reading this book a lot and Ramanujan is in my mind ever since I completed this book. A movie adaptation of this book is said to be under production with Indian actor R. Madavan as lead. Also rumor says that another movie on his lifetime is under production with Slumdog Millionaire fame Dev Patel as lead.
I want to discuss a lot about Ramanujan, but maybe in the another post.
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