What if you had to take an art class in which you were only taught how to paint a fence? What if you were never shown the paintings of van Gogh and Picasso, weren't even told they existed? Alas, this is how math is taught, and so for most of us it becomes the intellectual equivalent of watching paint dry.
In Love and Math, renowned mathematician Edward Frenkel reveals a side of math we've never seen, suffused with all the beauty and elegance of a work of art. In this heartfelt and passionate audiobook, Frenkel shows that mathematics, far from occupying a specialist niche, goes to the heart of all matter, uniting us across cultures, time, and space.
Love and Math tells two intertwined stories: of the wonders of mathematics and of one young man's journey learning and living it. Having braved a discriminatory educational system to become one of the twenty-first century's leading mathematicians, Frenkel now works on one of the biggest ideas to come out of math in the last 50 years: the Langlands Program.
Considered by many to be a Grand Unified Theory of mathematics, the Langlands Program enables researchers to translate findings from one field to another so that they can solve problems, such as Fermat's last theorem, that had seemed intractable before. At its core, Love and Math is a story about accessing a new way of thinking, which can enrich our lives and empower us to better understand the world and our place in it. It is an invitation to discover the magic hidden universe of mathematics.
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Answers tough questions, but not for all listeners
- Gary "l'enfer c'est les autres"
A book that probably loses from being read aloud
Best was the personal story of the author's personal triumph over prejudice in Moscow. Despite horrible anti-semitism, he was able to escape to America and be, at least in his own estimation (with apparent plausibility) a well regarded academic mathematician.
The unfolding mathematical story, as well as personal one, appeared to have the potential to be fascinating. But given it is pitched at a general audience who are not trained in maths, it failed in explaining itself. Given that part of the author's argument (at least expressed in other forums than this book) is that the school curriculum being too slow to take up the progress in mathematics over the last couple of centuries, and that it has the potential to be fascinating, this is a serious failure. The way the mathematical advances are presented in this book, if it is thought by a serious mathematician to be presented for an intelligent lay audience, strains the believability of the proposition that such mathematics can ever be generally accessible.
Having only listened to the audio book, I do, however, wonder whether this is caused by having to listen to mathematical formulas rather than read them. The words or numbers and symbols on the page of a book, may be more accessible. A possibility is that I have a visually dominant input so that aural input is more difficult. But I found it very difficult to keep the boringly read formulas in my head long enough to work out whether they presented an argument. (Of course, I accept that they did, just that it bypassed me completely) I also supposed that the book must have contained illustrations which are not referred to at all in the auditory text. I suspect if you had the written material in front of you you could at least stop and look at it and read it several times and reason mathematically a little bit about it so it would be more likely to stay in one's head for the next part of the argument.
Possibly this was exacerbated by the reader who seemed not to have a very good ability to give emphasis and nuance to what he was reading. There were several times where
I felt I picked up a lot of mathematical jargon - fields, groups, sets, braids, loops, Galois things, Lie algebra, Langlands program, Weill's rosetta stone, vector spaces, legrangians, Katz-Moody algebras - I'm not sure how to spell all these at is all auditory. But I really can't say that any of this terminology has any meaning to me.
The experience was really just like watching the news in Chinese, with English commentary interspersed to provide historical updates. Unless you speak a bit of Chinese, you wouldn't get it. It was the same here, you need to be pretty knowledgeable about maths to understand the importance of the maths presented.
Perhaps this is just my lack of education in higher mathematics - but that was why i thought I'd be interested to read the book - to gain some general conception of what modern mathematics is really about. I failed. Perhaps it's just me.
Despite these significant shortcomings, the book was interesting and I learnt a tiny shadowy amount of what goes on in that foreign land.