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.
"In Mathematics without Apologies, an important mathematician reports to outsiders straight from the frontier of knowledge. Alternating chapters of more traditional popularization with a sophisticated essayistic discourse that naturally blends the historical, the autobiographical, and the philosophical, Michael Harris manages to convey the complexity, the magic, and the near-mystical quality of modern mathematical research."--Apostolos Doxiadis, coauthor of Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth and author of Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture: A Novel of Mathematical Obsession
"Mathematics without Apologies is a math book like no other. Harris mixes number theory, literary criticism, and philosophy into a powerful meditation on mathematics as it is really practiced, vaporizing all clichés and romantic myths within his astoundingly broad reach."--Jordan Ellenberg, author of How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking
"Becoming a mathematician is like becoming a musician. The apprentice must master the technique, but along the way he also has to develop an aesthetic sense. Only then can he become a master in his own right. In this lively book, Harris examines the mathematician's craft from every angle, from the elementary and familiar to the sophisticated and exotic, and questions the ethics of using mathematics in finance. Mathematics without Apologies is a very personal book dealing with timeless questions."--Ivar Ekeland, mathematician and economist, author of The Best of All Possible Worlds and The Cat in Numberland
"As the only child of John von Neumann, I have long tried to understand what it is that mathematicians do. Michael Harris addresses the question from every angle. I still don't have a complete handle on the answer, but I'm certainly puzzled at a much higher level than before."--Marina von Neumann Whitman, University of Michigan
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Michael Harris: