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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
No need to apologize for this,
By Sphex (London)  See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Mathematician's Apology (Canto) (Paperback)
"Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for secondrate 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 firstrate book has attracted an altogether better class of reviewer, the selfeffacing 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 matteroffact 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 nonmathematician 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 equationphobic 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." Hardy does not take kindly to the commonplace idea "that an academic career is one sought mainly by cautious and unambitious persons who care primarily for comfort and security." While he is, unsurprisingly, motivated by "intellectual curiosity" and a "desire to know the truth", he also admits to "professional pride", "ambition" and a "desire for reputation". A lesser mind might have been tempted to feign guilt over such worldly traits, but Hardy has only a good word for ambition, the "noble passion". And his own noblest ambition? That "of leaving behind... something of permanent value". No dreams of heavenly bliss for this atheist. Just when you might be thinking that all this talk of reputation and ambition must arise from an insufferable selfcentredness, he declares that much of his best work was done in collaboration with two other mathematicians, Littlewood and Ramanujan, from very different backgrounds. Hardy's recognition of the unknown Indian was not inevitable: two other eminent Englishmen had returned the manuscripts without comment, on the assumption that Ramanujan was a crank. That too was Hardy's first impression, but he soon changed his mind and saw in Ramanujan a brilliant if untutored mathematical mind. It is a remarkable story by any standards, and has been recently staged as "A Disappearing Number"  a brilliant production in which a rather battered copy of this very edition gets a turn in the limelight. What was a "melancholy experience" for Hardy (writing about mathematics) provides a rewarding experience for us. Graham Greene considered this the best account of what it is like to be a creative artist. I don't know if Greene is right, or if Hardy is right in his belief "that mathematical reality lies outside us," waiting to be discovered. I defer to their judgements but can better appreciate their conclusions after reading this book. C. P. Snow describes Hardy's "mocking horror of pretentiousness, selfrighteous indignation, and the whole stately pantechnicon of the hypocritical virtues." More intriguing, given Hardy's hatred of God and all the pious nonsense carried out in God's name, and given that the spiritual side of human nature has been unthinkingly yoked to religious mumbo jumbo for far too long, is Snow's description of Hardy "as spiritually delicate" and "spiritually candid as few men are". The dominant sense of "apology" implies a fault for which contrition is being expressed. Hardy's Apology is no craven exercise in selfabasement but a serious and vigorous justification of the intellectual and creative life, whether led by a mathematician or anyone else.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
Two Books in One,
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This review is from: A Mathematician's Apology (Canto) (Paperback)
This is a delightful read. The foreword by C.P. Snow takes up approximately onethird 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 stepbystep 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!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
A unique classic which every thoughtful person should read,
By
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This review is from: A Mathematician's Apology (Canto Classics) (Kindle Edition)
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.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars
Apology in order,
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This review is from: A Mathematician's Apology (Paperback)
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 online 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.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
An accessible insight into the life of a mathematician,
By A Customer
This review is from: A Mathematician's Apology (Canto) (Paperback)
This is a good book for people intersted in mathematics, no prior knowledge needed! It discusses how mathematics is important in the everyday world. I would recommend this book especially to mathematics students (or prospective ones) as wider reading. It is interesting to see how in Hardy's time, less than sixty years ago, areas of mathematics that had no obvious use and were studied purely for their beauty have become the centre of importance in the computer and internet technology of today and the future with important applications and areas of research.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars
Very approachable for nonmathematicians,
By
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This review is from: A Mathematician's Apology (Canto) (Paperback)
This essay by one of the great pure mathematicians is rightly famous, but not for the right reasons. The author's central thesis  that real mathematics is, like the other forms of art, wholly useless  was shown to be wrong shortly after his death. The "wholly useless" theory of numbers, in which Hardy spent most of his professional life, is in fact of paramount importance these days. When you buy this book from Amazon the only reason you can be assured that naughty people won't steal your credit card number in transit is because of work done by pure mathematicians, and Hardy's own work has proven to be important in physics.
Hardy is writing for the nonmathematical layman here, so the book is very approachable, with only a minimum of elementary mathematics in it, which he provides as examples, and all of which should be accessible to anyone, including small children and Media Studies students. His intention is to provide a view into the mind of "real" mathematicians and explain the fascination that some people have with his "wholly useless" subject. And I suppose he does a decent job of that. But in my opinion, the best bit is the foreword by C. P. Snow, which first appeared in the 1967 edition, 20 years after Hardy's death. That is a clear, touching  but critical in parts  portrait, and would be worth reading on its own. Hardy's essay is just a bonus.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars
How maths used to be,
By
This review is from: A Mathematician's Apology (Canto) (Paperback)
Reading this book is like opening a time capsule  which is fun, up to a point. The academic world Hardy inhabited was largely swept away by the first world war, and this book is full of the feeling of that threatened world  one of Hardy's main aims is to show that a. "proper" mathematics is of no practical use, and that b. this is good news, partly because this makes it "purer" and hence better (in some unexplained way) partly because then it can't be blamed for killing people.
The idea that mathematicians should justify their incomes through the value of their work (either through actual income generation or through explaining how the universe works) seems not to occur to Hardy; it's hard to imagine any mathematician today making the uselessness of their subject the major theme of a book. Unfortunately for Hardy, the very areas he singles out as being especially satisfyingly useless are key to modern codebreaking and secure financial transactions  in fact it's hard to think of any substantial area of mathematics that is "useless" in Hardy's sense. Hardy's style is also very antiquated, involving a great deal of preparatory throatclearing, unsupported valuejudgments, meandering around the subject, and lengthy vagueness. To a modern reader it all seems a bit smug and fake. On the other hand, the actual points that Hardy makes about the way mathematicians develop ideas, and the examples of explanations of the amazing way mathematical proof works, are good ones. And, as a look back at a vanished period of academic history, it's great. But as an introduction to how mathematicians work now, or the role of mathematical research, it has become a very weak book.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Classic text: required reading for all mathematicians,
By
This review is from: A Mathematician's Apology (Canto) (Paperback)
Quite simply: if you are 'doing' mathematics, or if you are about to embark on a course of study in mathematics or the philosophy of mathematics, then you must read this book.
It is not only a record of the deepest thoughts of one of the central figures in 20th century mathematics, it is also a joy to read. Succinct, compelling and utterly candid this book like no other captures the attitude of the mathematician of the last century. If you want to know why this book explains it. Suprisingly, by understatement, Hardy manages nevertheless to reveal a passion for intellectual beauty which takes the breath, and possibly the soul, away.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
An inspirational text from a legendary mathematician,
By A Customer
This review is from: A Mathematician's Apology (Canto) (Paperback)
This is simply a superb book, and I am not sure that any review I write will really do this classic text justice. The book provides an insight into the life of one of the 20th Century's best Pure Mathematicians, G.H. Hardy and is an inspirational text for all those wishing to persue, or who are in, a career in mathematics. The book provides a wonderful mix of tones, moments of happiness, poignant memories, and sadness. The foreword by C.P. Snow is excellent and provides a thoughtful yet entertaining introduction to G.H. Hardy. I recommend this book wholeheartedly  it really should have a place on every mathematicians bookshelf.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Mathematicians apology,
By Carrolean (Bristol UK)  See all my reviews
This review is from: A Mathematician's Apology (Canto) (Paperback)
I had read that Hardy's apology was very good value and, my goodness, it is. Hardy's uncompromising attitude to success and his delightfuland precise use of English make this a delight to read. People who dislike elitism will be put off because he is an unashamed elitist. I was enthralled and want to make my grandchildren read it and to write a commentary on it for them to elucidate the bits of mathematical philosophy which hadn't been established when he wrote.
The preface by CP Snow is, by comparison, pedestrian and mealy mouthed. Anthony Camacho 
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A Mathematician's Apology by G. H. Hardy (Paperback  5 Oct. 2011)
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