Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Review - The man who knew infinity

This is for the first time I read a biography of an Indian and I regret reading it so late. Even though I knew about this book much earlier, also had seen it the book stores both online and offline umpteen times but never bothered to read, the reasons completely unknown to me either. But the positive side is that I got to read this book at the right time in my life when I needed some inspiration and motivation the most.

If I have to write about this book, there are two spectacular things which have to talk about, Ramanujan and Robert Kanigel. Well, this is a review and I solely have to talk about the book. The author has already talked about the hero impeccably. The book has been written with great ardor. I liked the way; the author has explained the back drop before talking about the genius. For example, in the initial pages, he explains the village Kumbakonam, religion in that place, economic and social conditions, relations and then talks about Ramanujan. The backstage is perfectly set for reader of any ethnicity, culture or nationality to feel what he feels, to see what he sees and to try to be a Ramanujan. The reader can understand the social dilemma of India of that age with ease. For the aspiring writers, Robert Kanigel showed how simple language and content can produce worthy material for a wider audience.

The author has well researched in the works of Ramanujan. As a reader we get an insight of his mathematical achievements with his age and it is easier for a math student to appreciate the discoveries in that era. A non mathematical student too can catch up with the timeline to see the genius exploding with more complex things. The author also has laid emphasis on the relationship between Hardy and Ramanujan, and I am still not sure, who discovered who? May be the universe wanted them together. The author also raised few questions for the reader to draw their own conclusions like Ramanujan really getting this prowess from goddess Namagiri, Ramanujan really willing to go to London after initial year of opposition, before leaving for London, Ramanujan sleeps in the temple for three days and then says that the goddess appeared in his dreams and has permitted him to go, in London when the intended stay was for two years, was Ramanujan willing to stay longer? Apart from this as and when they appear, the author asks these questions, which surely carry lot of philosophical weight.

The author also gives a glimpse of psychology of Ramanujan, which most of us never thought of.  His behavior when his friend scores more marks during his childhood, in London when the guests avoid his third offering and hence runs away to oxford, in his early teens  he runs away from home twice, in London, he sleeping on the tracks unable to handle the pressures of family back in India, his dependency on south Indian food. While reading the section after he was swimming in turmoil, I could just remember the quote from ‘’ Thus spoke Zarasthura’’ ‘’One must have chaos to give rise to a dancing star by Friedrich Nietzsche’’. Also the relationship of Ramanujan with his family is also expressed in detail. Especially his mother and wife Janaki. His mother is the source of inspiration but later, near his death he sees a clash between his mother and himself due to Janaki. He misses Janaki in London and wants to spend his time with her nearing his death.

Best part of the book is after Ramanujan dies. I was curious to read that part. The author talks about the aftermath, the discoveries of Ramanujan and its effect on people and the world. The usage of Ramanujan’s math in day to day life which is the application part. His discovers are used in detecting cancer, string theory, computing pi in computers etc.  Mathematicians from around the world getting inspired by his work and unable to prove the theorems what a government clerk from India could do. He inspired the youth with maths. There was no doubt that he is less than any Euler, Gauss or Jacobi. 


  1. Nice Blog... I enjoy reading your article , thanks :)

  2. Thank You for sharing not only about the book but also what you liked. It helps in so many ways especially for a person who mainly reads fiction. i listen to this programme on radio in the early hours if i wake up early and that programme is called Soul Yatra on Fm 104 Delhi. It is hosted by one Mr Sharath. i find his words and anecdotes very motivating and one of such was on Ramanujan. Feel like sharing today with you...since ur post is about the Man who knew infinity. This is how it is stated...
    During his school days, he impressed upon his classmates, senior students and teachers with his extraordinary question. Needless to say then despite him being so good with numbers, Arithmetic, geometry and algebra that particular day the impression was not so much of a genius but of an odd pupil who asks a foolishly odd question the answer of which even a donkey can tell.
    A friend of his recounted that in an arithmetic class on division, the teacher said that if three bananas were given to three boys, each boy would get a banana. The teacher generalized this idea. Ramanujan is said to have asked:
    Sir, if no banana is distributed to no student,
    will everyone still get a banana?
    That particular day everybody in the class had laughed out loud and we can well imagine what the teacher would have said...
    Surely i guess the book must be mentioning the precise age of the genius when he went on to prove that
    Infinity theory.
    Thank you once again for drawing my attention towards the book and hence Our Great genius. Jai ho !!