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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 7 April 2000
Ramanujan perhaps suffers a little from being such an extraordinary character - I'm surprised at how little-known his story is, and most accounts I've read seem rather superficial. Kanigel manages to make him sound like a man - a man with a uniqely sharp mathematical vision - but a human being nonetheless. What, I think, makes Kanigel's account so successful is his willingness to take Ramanujan's religious faith seriously and not to sideline it. He is very good at describing the two different worlds (South India and Cambridge) and letting us get a feel for the culture of each place. He also should take credit for attempting to describe some of the mathematics involved.
The Ramanujan story is, I believe, a sad one and Kanigel isn't scared to confront some of the issues that should anger some of us. Yes, Ramanujan was a phenomenon of which India should feel proud - but equally she should be shocked at how easily he could have lived his life undiscovered. Yes, Hardy should take credit for recognising Ramanujan's genius and taking him under his wing - but equally he allowed Ramanujan to live a lonely and in many way malnourished life in Britain. And so on. I think that this is an excellent, honest, book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 April 2013
The enigma of Ramanujan - a mathematical Mozart.

In a 1913 letter to G.H.Hardy, Ramanujan wrote:

"I have found a friend in you who views my labours sympathetically. ... I am already a half starving man. To preserve my brains I want food and this is my first consideration. Any sympathetic letter from you will be helpful to me here to get a scholarship either from the university of from the government."

Ramanujan left India for Cambridge on 17th March 1914. Tragically, six years later in April 1920 he would be dead.

His mathematical results live on. The most amazing stuff.

Looking at his work is, for me, like experiencing a kind of mathematical vertigo. Gamma functions scattered all over the place. An amazing and obscure approximation for Pi. His astounding solution to the problem of calculating the partitions of a natural number. He comes up with a class of functions he calls the Mock Theta Functions - because they "mock" him with their beauty. It goes on and on.

With the works of other mathematicians or physicists you can see the problems they were trying to solve. You can see how they hone in on their results as they proceed. They have a plan of attack and they follow it through to the solution. They may reason something like "I have an idea for solving this. If we try this ..." or something like that.

Not so with Ramanujan. It's like he's skipped this first step. The results just come cascading out in torrents. Where did he get the ideas from?

Hardy and Littlewood realised early on that Ramanujan's concept of what constituted a proper proof was sometimes tenuous. But, rather than stem the flow of results with an insistence on more rigour, they turned a blind eye. The fear was they would only interfere with his creative process. "It seemed ridiculous to worry him about how he had found this or that known theorem, when he was showing me half a dozen new ones almost every day" - Hardy.

Ramanujan remains an enigma.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 27 May 2005
I bought this book after reading many others on popular mathematics. I found the book very slow, with heavy repetition of only a few themes. While Ramanujan was clearly an incredible man the book concentrates mostly on the incidental parts of his life and largely ignores the mathematical details the area I believe that defined him as an incredible individual. There was virtually no detail of any of his mathematical achievements making rather a dry biography lacking in interesting detail.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 10 July 2001
Kanigel weaves an entriguing biography from his extensive research into the life of Ramanujan. This text follows Ramanujan's journey from intellectual isolation to mathematical enlightenment and the universal acclaim he deserved and desired. Cultural aspects of his Indian background and the ensuing shock of Cambridge are conveyed convincingly. The author makes an unusual effort to explain mathematical concepts and he succeeds in creating a book that will enthrall mathematicians and non-mathematicians alike.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 12 July 2002
I had heard of Ramanujan before, but not being a mathematician myself, I never read anything on him so I bought this biography by Kanigel. I like the style in which it is written, it makes easy reading and keeps you fascinated throughout the book. I read it in 1-2 days. The book not only covers the mathematics and collaboration with Hardy in detail but also the tremendous 'sufferings' Ramanujan had to undergo, and the culture clash between the West and India.
The book is worth the money. The only drawback I can think of is the cheap look and feel of the paperback edition. This book is certainly worth to be published in hardcover edition. I give it 4 stars because way too many books in Amazon get overrated by 5 stars and I don't want to fool people. If you are like me, with no background in Ramanujan, just buy this book, it is very good.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Srinivasa Ramanujan!What a great name and legend in the mathematical history. He is one of my favourite mathematician from my childhood. I tried to find his biography before and I couldnt find proper biography and this book is very very excellent book about the Genius. At one time, I have got tears on my eyes while reading the book and his troubles in his life. He found so many mathematical formulae in his time without proper facilities as we have today.

One thing I can say for sure, he lived only 33 years and If he'd lived more, then where would be the mathematical world?
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on 14 June 2015
The life of Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar is truly the most amazing in all of science. A transcendent mathematical genius, he was both amazingly lucky and the victim of incredible misfortune. Quite possibly the greatest mathematical talent the world has ever known, his discoveries still astound and baffle those who read them.
Born to a poor, upper caste Brahmin family in the area near Madras in southern India, he was self-taught in mathematics and failed all other subjects. Only the kind patronage of those who recognized, but did not understand his talents kept him afloat in his early years.
After a few years of work as a clerk, he was the recipient of an amazing stroke of luck. An unsolicited letter with a few of his results was sent to some of the highest ranking mathematicians in England. G. H. Hardy chose to read it and after serious thought decided to respond. As Kanigel accurately relates, this was astonishing.
The idea that an upper class Englishman would read and take seriously a letter from an uneducated "native" in one of the far reaches of the empire was almost unthinkable. The author spends a great deal of time explaining Hardy's unorthodox nature. While lengthy, it is necessary to explain why Hardy took the trouble to read the letter and respond.
Kanigel also does an excellent job in describing the culture shock that Ramanujan encountered, although one suspects that he faced a bit more racism than is mentioned. While experiencing some difficulty, the British empire was still near the height of its power, and certainly many of those in the British Isles looked down upon their "subject peoples."
All of the human interest aspects of the Hardy-Ramanujan collaboration are told in great detail. Hardy had the greatest respect for Ramanujan the mathematician, once creating a rising scale of their mathematical ability that assigned the scores

G. H. Hardy 25
H. E. Littlewood 30
David Hilbert 80
S. Ramanujan 100

certainly placing Ramanujan among the best of all time. However, Hardy was totally uninterested in Ramanujan the man and recent immigrant. At no time did Hardy ever express interest in Ramanujan's life and family in southern India.
The final chapters deal with the fate of Ramanujan's work after he died. Some of it was stored away and only recently "rediscovered" and presented to the world, another amazing chapter in the life of an amazing man.
This book is a superb account of the life and times of a man whose work and insights were so incredible that no one person really understands them all. This is one of the best mathematical biographies that I have ever read.

Published in Mathematics and Computer Education, reprinted with permission.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 19 October 2000
Robert Kanigel's research into the Ramanujan phenonenon is impressive. I knew very little about this genius and his contributions to pure mathematics. I can now claim to be well informed thanks to the author whose narrative is excellent. I could almost visualise the life Ramanujan led in Kumbakonam, Madras and Cambridge.
It is shame that neither Trinity College, Cambridge nor Madras University have been inclined to establish a Chair in Mathematice to commemorate this extraordinary man and his deep insight into numbers.
An excellent read. Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2010
A very good reading. It talks not only about Ramanujan's life, but also about other great mathematicians around him and different facts that happened during the period he stayed at Cambridge. A very interesting book. It deserves to be read.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 7 January 2003
Srinivasa Ramanujan is rightly a member of the Mathematicians’ Hall of Fame. From humble beginnings in the small town of Kumbhakaon in Tamil Nadu to the hallowed cloisters of Trinity College, Cambridge, this magnificent book narrates the story of Ramanujan’s trails, tribulations and triumphs.
Central to the story are the powerful influences of Ramanujan’s mother and the great English Mathematician, Godfrey Harold Hardy. If his mother, Komala shaped the first part of Ramanujan’s life, then surely Hardy must take full credit for bringing Ramanujan’s prodigious talents to the attention of the world Mathematical community. Other prominent characters also figure in the story – notably Ramanujan’s many friends, Narayana Aiyer, Gopalachari, leading lights in the Indian Mathematical establishment, members of the ruling British classes, Sir Francis Spring, the Governor of Madras Presidency, xxxx, and Cambridge Mathematicians, Neville, Littlewood.
The book presents a touching portrait of Ramanujan the man: an orthodox Vaishav Bhraman, steeped in Hindu culture with all the attendant characteristics of a deeply spiritual outlook, a calm self-assurance about his abilities, and most of all, an obsession with Mathematics. Hardy, his mentor, is also biographed as the passionately atheist, Winchester educated son of a middle class schoolmaster who went up to Cambridge, and at the turn of the 20th century, almost single handed masterminded the rise of English Pure Mathematics.
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