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The Indian Clerk [Paperback]

David Leavitt
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

16 Sep 2008
On a January morning in 1913, G. H. Hardy - eccentric, charismatic and, at thirty-seven, already considered the greatest British mathematician of his age - receives a mysterious envelope covered with Indian stamps. Inside he finds a rambling letter from a self-professed mathematical genius who claims to be on the brink of solving the most important unsolved mathematical problem of his time. Some of his Cambridge colleagues dismiss the letter as a hoax, but Hardy becomes convinced that the Indian clerk who has written it - Srinivasa Ramanujan - deserves to be taken seriously. Aided by his collaborator, Littlewood, and a young don named Neville who is about to depart for Madras with his wife, Alice, he determines to learn more about the mysterious Ramanujan and, if possible, persuade him to come to Cambridge. It is a decision that will profoundly affect not only his own life, and that of his friends, but the entire history of mathematics. Based on the remarkable true story of the strange and ultimately tragic relationship between an esteemed British mathematician and an unknown - and unschooled - mathematical genius, and populated with such luminaries as D. H. Lawrence, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Indian Clerk fashions from this fascinating period an exquisitely nuanced and utterly compelling story about the fragility of human connection and our need to find order in the world.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback: 485 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; Reprint edition (16 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596910410
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596910416
  • Product Dimensions: 21.9 x 17 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,004,666 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'A loving exploration of one of the greatest collaborations of the past century, The Indian Clerk is a novel that brilliantly orchestrates questions of colonialism, sexual identity and the nature of genius' Manil Suri 'Leavitt brings to life a world of maths and mysticism' Observer 'Impressive ... Leavitt plunges us, like Ramanujan, into a world of academic squabbling and wartime privation' Times Literary Supplement 'Excellent ... His Hardy is a superb creation ... The author also synthesises huge amounts of engrossing period gossip ... the snatches of backbiting and shop-talk richly convey the anxieties of the intellectual climate' Saturday Telegraph --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

David Leavitt is the author of several novels including The Lost Language of Cranes, three story collections and, most recently, The Body of Jonah Boyd. He lives in Gainesville and teaches at the University of Florida. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Ramanujan was my discovery" 9 Sep 2007
In this big and expansive novel, author David Leavitt brings to life the world of Edwardian England, and in the process, recounts the relationship of British mathematician G. H Hardy (1877-1947) with the Indian born genius Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920). Godfrey Harold Hardy was most known for his achievements in number theory and mathematical analysis, but it is his relationship as mentor, from 1914 onwards, of Ramanujan that has become most widely celebrated.

"I did not invent him, he invented himself, and my association with him is the one romantic incident in my life, tells Hardy in 1936 as he begins a speech in the New Lecture Hall at Harvard University. Back in 1913 Hardy received a strange letter from an unknown clerk in Madras, accompanied by nine dense pages of mathematics, containing theorems on infinite series, improper integrals, continued fractions, number theory, and including the attempt to prove the "Riemann hypothesis."

Upon showing the formulas to his collaborator J. E. Littlewood, they both conclude that these results "must be true because, if they were not true, no one would have had the imagination to invent them." As a result, Hardy, buoyed along by his sense of ambition, sequesters his best friends Eric Neville, and his lovely wife, Alice, to travel to India in order to bring Ramanujan to England.

In a series of letters to Hardy's sister Gertrude, Alice tells them both much about Ramanujan's situation where he grew up poor in South India. Once a promising student and locally renowned for winning academic prizes in high school, his total engagement in mathematics proved disastrous, and ignoring all his other subjects, he repeatedly failed his college exams.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Prime Number 2 Dec 2008
By purpleheart TOP 100 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
`The man sitting next to the podium appeared to be very old, at least in the eyes of the members of his audience, most of whom were very young.'

GH Hardy, the famous mathematician, is about to receive an honourary degree from Harvard at the start of this novel. But he knows that his audience will want to hear about Ramanujan, the Indian clerk of the title, a mathematical genius and Hardy's protégé. In his speech Hardy says that his association with Ramanujan was `the one romantic incident' in his life.

I'm not quite sure what I think about this genre of historical fiction based on real lives but Leavitt is very good at it. It's well researched, convincing and engaging. It's good on the maths and the search for the proof of Riemann hypothesis for prime numbers and of Cambridge and London just before and during the first world war. It examines class and also the homosexual world at that time - DH Lawrence and Wittgenstein both make an appearance and both seem repulsed by what they see of Cambridge gay society. Bertrand Russell, JM Keynes, Lytton Strachey and Rupert Brooke are fellow apostles, the not so secret society of which Hardy is a member. They have minor roles but help to place this novel in terms of time and place.

Ramanujan and Hardy come from different worlds but both can enter a world of maths which most of us cannot inhabit `a world remote from religion, war, literature, sex, even philosophy' says Hardy and he also states `a slate and some chalk. That's all you need'. Leavitt does a pretty good job of giving us a feel for that and the excitement that goes with it. Except that it turns out that isn't all either of them need. Ramanuajn gets ill in England; it's difficult for him to follow his strict vegetarian diet.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stranger than fiction 17 Nov 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the story of the relationship between two brilliant but eccentric men of mathematics who came from vastly different backgrounds. G.H. Hardy was one of the preeminent academics in England: a fellow of Trinity College Cambridge, and credited with single-handedly bringing rigour to British mathematics. Srinivasa Ramanujan was a poor, uneducated Indian who taught himself mathematics in isolation from the rest of the world, and went on to make remarkable discoveries in that subject. Their meeting came about when Ramanujan wrote to Hardy out of the blue describing some of these, and asked for his help. Hardy immediately realized that Ramanujan was a genius and brought him to Cambridge in 1914 so they could work together in the rarefied atmosphere of number theory.

Such is the basic story, which has already been described in Ramanujan's excellent biography The Man Who Knew Infinity, which I read some time ago, and Hardy's elegant essay A Mathematician's Apology, which I read even longer ago (its forward is an account by C.P. Snow of the Hardy he knew, and is reprinted in Snow's entertaining Variety of Men). This book, on the other hand, is a piece of fiction, woven around the facts. It might be thought difficult to make an interesting tale about two mathematicians working on something so abstruse that it's only understood by a handful of people in the world, but the romance of this pairing and the obstacles that stood in their way is more than enough to maintain the attention of the reader.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Outstandingly boring
I have this problem: I cannot leave a book unfinished. Often it takes me to the point when I really get into it. This was the most boring book I have read in 30 or more years. Read more
Published 5 months ago by David Potter
2.0 out of 5 stars The Indian Clerk
I struggled to finish this book and found it laboured and would definitely not recommend it. All the mathematical equations and references were difficult to understand and I did... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Avid reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
This is a fascinating & engaging story - whether or not you can follow the maths. I also enjoyed the flowing style.
Published 6 months ago by Lois Harbinson
5.0 out of 5 stars "Dear Jam"
"He keeps going. He does not eat. It is well past midnight by the time he has worked out the number of ways you can divide up 20 lentils, and by then lentils are everywhere: spread... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Sue Kichenside
4.0 out of 5 stars The Indian Clerk
Right, it is difficult to engage non-mathematicians who do not have facility in mathematical language in the work of a seminal mathematician. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Miketang
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book!
This was a wonderful read! I read it when it came out and sent my praises to the author in the USA only to have it returned address unknown. Read more
Published on 31 Dec 2011 by W. Scott
4.0 out of 5 stars Convincing and absorbing evocation of an era
David Leavitt's novel, "The Indian Clerk", is a fictionalised evocation of an era, largely set in the years running up to and including the First World War in Britain, where the... Read more
Published on 31 Oct 2011 by Hywel James
4.0 out of 5 stars An Indian in Trinity
David Leavitt uses an unusual literary device of setting the narrative in the voice of the main character, Harold Hardy, giving a lecture of would he would have like to have said. Read more
Published on 23 Sep 2010 by Leonard
4.0 out of 5 stars Should be 4 and an half stars!
This books should be better than it is. Mr Leavitt's style is elegant and graceful, flowing in almost exactly the right way. Read more
Published on 17 Jun 2010 by A. R. Mash
2.0 out of 5 stars Worthy but dull
It took me a while to get through this book - I had to put it aside for a few weeks but found it easy enough to get back into. Read more
Published on 6 Oct 2009 by Lucia Tilling
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