27 May 2008

The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan -- Robert Kanigel

I have wanted to read a book on Ramanujan ever since I heard the basic details of his life story. This book is everything I could have asked for. A complete account of the man's life, as well as everything else one might want to know about the times and places he lived. By this I mean, the book details the lives of those closest to Ramanujan as well as the culture in India and England at the time. It is written for the mathematically unsophisticated and is thus accessible to everyone. Even the layman can appreciate the amazing formulas that are presented and explained very well by the author.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. It gives insight into the workings of professional mathematicians which is something that I think non-mathematicians should be informed of. Further, to the mathematically oriented, this book gives insight into one of the most original and brilliant minds of the 20th century and possibly ever. Furthermore, this book is a wealth of information on the cultural aspects that affect academic achievement from the mid-19th century through to the present.

21 May 2008

Ninety-Three -- Victor Hugo

I have been wanting to read nearly all of Hugo's books and this is my first one. I can safely say that it will not be my last. This was truly a great piece of literature. I want to start with saying that I really did enjoy the book and I thought it was executed (no pun intended) very well. However, I do have some minor complaints. I think that it is sometimes over looked that this book goes into some unnecessary detail about the people and places involved. Yes it is interesting to hear, but sometimes it goes on for full pages about the names of people who are only mentioned that one time and have little to do with the story. I understand why he does this when he does, however the book does drag at certain points. The only reason I really say this is because anyone looking to read this book might get bogged down near the beginning and even in the middle with some of these details and might possibly set the book aside. It is really worth slogging through the extra verbiage.

The book weaves a fantastic story during an incredibly interesting point in history. I have studied the French revolution from a historical non-fiction point of view as well as from the many novels that are set in this time. I can not get enough of the incredible characters and stories from that time period. This book actually has Danton, Marat and Robspierre as characters. This is possibly the only book I know of that does this. Hence, I recommend this book fully to anyone interested in reading a well developed and engaging story. Especially to those who have a pre-existing interest in the French revolution.

One fact that should actually be pointed out in addition, is the fact that Hugo has some of the best lines I have ever read. I mean that he uses language so well that nearly every sentence is one you want to write down on a post-it and stick to your wall. If I had actually written down every quote that I thought was powerful, beautiful and/or just plain cool, I could have filled a notebook. I ended up writing down page numbers but then had to stop doing that because I had too many written down. I decided at one point that the whole book is quotable and hence reading it is sort of a gift that keeps on giving.