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A Mathematician's Apology (Canto) Paperback – 31 Jan 1992

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Product details

  • Paperback: 153 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; New Ed edition (31 Jan. 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521427061
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521427067
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 1.2 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 416,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


'Generations of readers, both in and out of mathematics, have read Apology as one of the most eloquent descriptions in our language of the pleasure and power of mathematical invention.' The New Yorker

'Great mathematicians rarely write about themselves or about their work, and few of them would have the literary gift to compose an essay of such charm, candour and insight … a manifesto for mathematics itself.' The Guardian

'Hardy's book is carefully reasoned, beautifully written and very stimulating; … it can profitably be read by anyone.' New Scientist

'A beautiful book written by a leading mathematician of the time.' BBC Focus

Book Description

G. H. Hardy was one of this century's finest mathematical thinkers, renowned among his contemporaries as a 'real mathematician … the purest of the pure'. This is a unique account of the fascination of mathematics and of one of its most compelling exponents in modern times. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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IT was a perfectly ordinary night at Christ's high table, except that Hardy was dining as a guest. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Sphex on 27 Nov. 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for second-rate minds." Already, in the first paragraph, G. H. Hardy is deploring the task of writing about mathematics in his characteristically forthright fashion. It's just as well that by the time we begin the Apology we have been softened up by C. P. Snow's excellent introduction and potted biography. Clearly, this first-rate book has attracted an altogether better class of reviewer, the self-effacing type not given to hissy fits on being reminded of their place in the intellectual pantheon.

"I had of course found at school, as every future mathematician does, that I could often do things much better than my teachers". Hardy's later achievements and his matter-of-fact style ensure that this is neither preening vanity nor a pompous boast. A professional mathematician might also agree that the "function of a mathematician is to do something" and not to talk about it. Mathematics as an active pursuit, being cleverer than your maths teacher - these count as revelations to ordinary mortals, even those of us who weren't too bad at maths. Then, and before any unsuspecting non-mathematician can run for cover, Hardy sets about proving "two of the famous theorems of Greek mathematics". There is really nothing to be scared of, even for the most equation-phobic humanities graduate. It's the ideas and the arguments that link them that matter, and they are not difficult to follow. In tracing the steps of Euclid and Pythagoras we are tracing patterns of thought that have lasted two thousand years, and we too can directly appreciate their beauty, and see for ourselves in a small way that a "mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By J. E. Finch on 27 Dec. 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a delightful read. The foreword by C.P. Snow takes up approximately one-third of the book, and is effectively a short biography of Hardy. It follows his life from late Victorian public school, to Trinity at Cambridge, then to New College Oxford, and then back to Cambridge. His initial decision to go to Cambridge came after reading “A Fellow of Trinity” by “Alan St Aubyn” – this is apparently not one of the world’s greatest works of literature, but I just have to read it now to see what was in it that could inspire him so strongly!
CP Snow paints a delightful picture of the life of an honest, eccentric, and intellectually gifted man – a life revolving around academia in general, mathematics, cricket, radical ideas and some superb eccentricities. Hardy was suspicious of all things mechanical – “If you fancy yourself at the telephone, there is one in the other room”. This book is worth reading for the foreword alone.
Hardy’s work then follows, written in a series of short, pithy chapters, a bit too long to be called aphorisms, but each almost stands alone in placing an argument, crafted in step-by-step fashion, as you would expect of a mathematician. Now, maybe my interpretation of Hardy’s words is different to others, but for me, although he concentrates on the rights or wrongs of devoting one’s life to pure mathematics, discussing how “worthwhile” mathematics is as a profession, I think you can read this as an argument on the merits or otherwise of any human endeavour. He basically concludes that it is far better to exercise to the full whatever talent one has, than do undistinguished work in other fields. There’s more depth to it than that of course, all very readable, and an interesting set of views for those faced with an awkward crossroads in life!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. R. Hudson on 10 Mar. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you have already encountered A Mathematician's Apology, I very much doubt you will demur from my review title. If not - read at once. Little need be said except the basics: this is an insight into mathematics, and why mathematicians persue it, by a leading professional mathematician of the early 20th century. Hardy was, however, a very unusual personality in many ways by the standards of mathematicians. His strange personality and, oddly for such an avowed atheist, his very strong spirituality, make for a poetic yet precise approach to his topic. The preface by C.P. Snow is a masterpiece of character study, and essential reading so as best to appreciate Hardy's own thoughts. The only drawback of the Kindle edition is the lack of the splendid cover picture used for so many years on the Cambridge University Press print editions. By the way, no experience or ability in mathematics is needed to enjoy, and benefit from, this book. Quite the contrary, both mathematicians and those to whom mathematics is a closed book will relish Hardy's work in different ways. That is the remarkable achievement of this niche classic.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Dr Dombo on 6 May 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This work is often cited in popular books about mathematics so when I saw it on Amazon I ordered it to see what it was all about.

It is an interesting, but heavily dated, justification of a boffin's life in the Ivory Tower, written with disdain for everything and everyone who engages in lower pursuits (which include "trivial" mathematics that may have practical application). Hardy almost wallows in the uselessness of number theory (and relativity and quantum mechanics). Mind you, this was written in 1940, i.e. when humanity was on the threshold of the atomic and computer age. Amazon and places like it would not exist if it weren't for the application of number theory to secure on-line financial transactions. I wonder what Hardy would have thought about that...

As far as the work itself - I had assumed it was a book. At 50 pages it is no more than a pamphlet or essay. Also, the foreword by C.P. Snow is not included in this edition. However, the worst thing about this particular edition is the enormous number of typos - there must be at least two per page on average. Extremely annoying and well worth an apology.
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