Saturday, 15 December 2012

The great David Berlinski

As a connoisseur of popularizers of mathematics and mathematical history, I must say that David Berlinski is right up there at the top of list. He is one of those fascinating people I've never met and would give all my two-month's salary just to sit in on one of his lectures. Clearly the man is an orator who cares about his craft as a writer and a mathematician/philosopher.

I think I have all his published books, books I read and re-read simply because I take great pleasure in reading his words and humour. He writes like the painter/artist Bosch. The flesh and bones of the long dead come back to life in all their humanly glory and foibles not because he describes them in great detail but that he gets to the heart of their original insights - in appealing to their imagined and historically accurate appearance one can see clearly their humanity but in a cerebral, this-is-how-a-great-mind-works kind of way. He does the same thing with equations.

Then, he comes up with gems like:

In the early 1980s, Grothendieck vacated his mathematical career to live alone in a shepherd's hut in the Pyrenees.

The hard, gifted, practical men expressed their appreciation for his genius, took what he had given them, and went right on being hard, gifted, practical men.

They were relieved. (1, 2, 3 Absolutely Elementary Mathematics, 2011, p. 156)

And, after going through a whirl-wind description of a process, he says something like: "[The] Clues have done all that clues can do." (p. 162).

Berlinski has great genius for these things. He should be required reading for junior and senior high school maths curriculum.

Jay

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