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A thoughtful account of a truly phenomenal man
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.