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!