‘The Fractalist,’ Benoit B. Mandelbrot’s Math Memoir

Dwight Garner in the New York Times:

Altbook-popup“When I find myself in the company of scientists,” W. H. Auden wrote, “I feel like a shabby curate who has strayed by mistake into a drawing room full of dukes.” Benoit B. Mandelbrot (1924-2010) had the kind of beautiful, buzzing mind that made even gifted fellow scientists feel shabby around the edges. Mandelbrot is said to have revitalized visual geometry and coined the term “fractal” to refer to a new class of mathematical shapes that uncannily mimic the irregularities found in nature.

He prized roughness and complication. “Think of color, pitch, loudness, heaviness and hotness,” heonce said. “Each is the topic of a branch of physics.” He dedicated his life to studying roughness and irregularity through geometry, applying what he learned to biology, physics, finance and many other fields.

He was never easy to pin down. He hopscotched so frequently among disciplines and institutions — I.B.M., Yale, Harvard — that in his new memoir, “The Fractalist,” he rather plaintively asks, “So where do I really belong?” The answer is: nearly everywhere.

More here.