What do pure mathematicians do, and why do they do it? Looking beyond the conventional answers—for the sake of truth, beauty, and practical applications—this book offers an eclectic panorama of the lives and values and hopes and fears of mathematicians in the twenty-first century, assembling material from a startlingly diverse assortment of scholarly, journalistic, and pop culture sources.
Drawing on his personal experiences and obsessions as well as the thoughts and opinions of mathematicians from Archimedes and Omar Khayyám to such contemporary giants as Alexander Grothendieck and Robert Langlands, Michael Harris reveals the charisma and romance of mathematics as well as its darker side. In this portrait of mathematics as a community united around a set of common intellectual, ethical, and existential challenges, he touches on a wide variety of questions, such as: Are mathematicians to blame for the 2008 financial crisis? How can we talk about the ideas we were born too soon to understand? And how should you react if you are asked to explain number theory at a dinner party?
Disarmingly candid, relentlessly intelligent, and richly entertaining, Mathematics without Apologies takes readers on an unapologetic guided tour of the mathematical life, from the philosophy and sociology of mathematics to its reflections in film and popular music, with detours through the mathematical and mystical traditions of Russia, India, medieval Islam, the Bronx, and beyond.
Michael Harris is professor of mathematics at the Université Paris Diderot and Columbia University. He is the author or coauthor of more than seventy mathematical books and articles, and has received a number of prizes, including the Clay Research Award, which he shared in 2007 with Richard Taylor.
"Michael Harris writes with all-absorbing exuberance and intensity about what it feels like from the inside to do mathematics, and he succeeds, for the uninitiated like myself, in conveying the motives and the pleasure that have impelled him and his precursors and peers to seek to understand. But Mathematics without Apologies is many things besides: it combines thoughtful personal memoir, sharp social chronicle, entertaining literary analysis, and jeux d’esprit reflecting on formulae for love or on the hidden structures in the fiction of Thomas Pynchon. Most importantly, however, Harris issues a clarion call for the autonomy of research in our time. He defends--fiercely and lucidly--the pursuit of understanding without recourse to commercial interests or other principles of utility. This is an original and passionate book; Michael Harris has fashioned much-needed luminous arguments for the cause of intellectual independence."--Marina Warner, professor of English and creative writing, Birkbeck, University of London, and author of Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights
"Michael Harris opens the doors and gently guides you into a magic world. Once inside, you can't help but feel mesmerized, eager to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. And no wonder: a major thinker of our time is talking to you about math and so much more, like you've never heard before."--Edward Frenkel, author of Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality
"Here is a quilted book about mathematical practice, each patch wonderfully prepared. Part invitation to number theory, part autobiography, part sociology of mathematical training, Mathematics without Apologies brings us into contemporary mathematics as a living, active inquiry by real people. Anyone wanting a varied, cultured, and penetrating view of today's mathematics could find no better place to engage."--Peter Galison, author of Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps: Empires of Time
Table of Contents
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Michael Harris: