The Mathematician’s Brain


If “The Mathematician’s Brain” does not answer the questions it poses, this is because no other book has answered these questions either. The book’s value lies in Mr. Ruelle’s description of the curious inner life of mathematicians. Their subject is very difficult. It requires unusual gifts. Physicists may disguise the triviality of their results by bustling about in large research groups. Mathematicians work alone. They are professionally naked.

As a result, many mathematicians have unstable personalities. Alexandre Grothendieck is an extreme example. His is hardly a household name, especially in the English-speaking world. Yet for the 15 years between 1958 and 1973, Mr. Grothendieck dominated the field of algebraic geometry and ruled like a prince over a court comprising some of the most talented mathematicians in the world. His immense treatise on algebraic geometry is, as Mr. Ruelle observes, the last great mathematical oeuvre written in the French language.

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