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A Mathematician's Apology

G H Hardy

Average Review Rating Average Rating 8/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Cambridge University Press

Published : 1940, 1992

Copyright : Cambridge University Press 1992

ISBN-10 : PB 0-521-42706-1
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-521-42706-7

Publisher's Write-Up

G. H. Hardy was one of this century's finest mathematical thinkers, renowned among his contemporaries as a 'real mathematician... the purest of the pure'. He was also, as C. P. Snow recounts in his Foreword, 'unorthodox, eccentric, radical, ready to talk about anything'. This 'apology', written in 1940 as his mathematical powers were declining, offers a brilliant and engaging account of mathematics as very much more than a science; when it was first published, Graham Greene hailed it alongside Henry James's notebooks as 'the best account of what it was like to be a creative artist'.

C. P. Snow's Foreword gives sympathetic and witty insights into Hardy's life, with its rich store of anecdotes concerning his collaboration with the brilliant Indian mathematician Ramanujan, his aphorisms and idiosyncrasies, and his passion for cricket. This is a unique account of the fascination of mathematics and of one of its most compelling exponents in modern times.

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Reader Reviews

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Review by John Finch (310511) Rating (8/10)

Review by John Finch
Rating 8/10
This is a delightful read. The foreword by C.P. Snow takes up approximately one-third of the book, and is effectively a short biography of Hardy. It follows his life from late Victorian public school, to Trinity at Cambridge, then to New College Oxford, and then back to Cambridge. His initial decision to go to Cambridge came after reading A Fellow of Trinity by Alan St Aubyn "this is apparently not one of the world's greatest works of literature, but I just have to read it now to see what was in it that could inspire him so strongly!"

CP Snow paints a delightful picture of the life of an honest, eccentric, and intellectually gifted man "a life revolving around academia in general, mathematics, cricket, radical ideas and some superb eccentricities". Hardy was suspicious of all things mechanical "If you fancy yourself at the telephone, there is one in the other room".

This book is worth reading for the foreword alone. Hardy's work then follows, written in a series of short, pithy chapters, a bit too long to be called aphorisms, but each almost stands alone in placing an argument, crafted in step-by-step fashion, as you would expect of a mathematician.

Now, maybe my interpretation of Hardy's words is different to others, but for me, although he concentrates on the rights or wrongs of devoting one's life to pure mathematics, discussing how 'worthwhile' mathematics is as a profession, I think you can read this as an argument on the merits or otherwise of any human endeavour. He basically concludes that it is far better to exercise to the full whatever talent one has, than do undistinguished work in other fields. There's more depth to it than that of course, all very readable, and an interesting set of views for those faced with an awkward crossroads in life!
John Finch (31st May 2011)

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