Perfect Rigour (Paperback)
A Genius and the Mathematical Breakthrough of a Lifetime
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In 2006, an eccentric Russian mathematician named Grigori Perelman solved one of the world's greatest intellectual puzzles. The Poincare conjecture is an extremely complex topological problem that had eluded the best minds for over a century. In 2000, the Clay Institute in Boston named it one of seven great unsolved mathematical problems, and promised a million dollars to anyone who could find a solution. Perelman was awarded the prize this year – and declined the money. Journalist Masha Gessen was determined to find out why. Drawing on interviews with Perelman's teachers, classmates, coaches, teammates, and colleagues in Russia and the US – and informed by her own background as a math whiz raised in Russia – she set out to uncover the nature of Perelman's astonishing abilities. In telling his story, Masha Gessen has constructed a gripping and tragic tale that sheds rare light on the unique burden of genius.
Gessen provides a thorough account of the circumstances that led to Perelman's rise in the 'vicious, backstabbing little world of Soviet mathematics and a brilliant reconstruction of the twisted logic that might have led to his mysterious exit. In so doing she has written something rare: an accessible book about an unreachable man.
Perelman and the world of Soviet maths training make a fascinating, moving tale, and in 'Perfect Rigour' Masha Gessen tells it brilliantly.
Perelman possessed and developed a perfect mathematical mind with which he achieved a unique triumph in maths. But having a perfect mind in an imperfect world, is almost bound to end in tragedy, as Masha Gessen's brilliant book reveals.
Gessen gives us a long and vivid description of the world of Soviet mathematics in the 1970s…. Gessen paints a memorable picture of a Soviet sub-culture in which the great players of the mathematical game were nurtured much like the most promising young tennis stars… Gessen's research and reportage portrays the ultimate misfit mathematician…
This strange tale highlights the intensity of the world of modern mathematics and the nature of some of the semi-autistic savants who live in it…. 'Perfect Rigour' is readable, coherent, and enjoyable and we get a distinct image of a man crippled by his inabilities to empathize with or understand other men or women.
[I] hugely enjoyed reading Masha Gessen's book. It gives the reader such an insight into Perelman, mathematics and Soviet education. The book will sit on my shelves between Simon Singh's Fermat's 'Last Theorem' and Graham Farmelo's 'The Strangest Man'.