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Mathematics without Apologies:
Portrait of a Problematic Vocation
Michael Harris

Hardcover | 2015 | $29.95 | ($20.97) / £19.95 | (£13.97) | ISBN: 9780691154237
464 pp. | 6 x 9 | 10 line illus.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400852024 |
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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.


"Mathematics without Apologies . . . provide[s] an unmatched perspective on life in this 'problematic vocation' . . . a kaleidoscope of philosophical, sociological, historical and literary perspectives on what mathematicians do, and why."--Amir Alexander, Nature

"Harris is the kind of mathematician one hopes to meet at an intimate dinner party. . . . Recommended for curious readers in any subject wishing to answer problems in creative ways."--Library Journal

"If you are interested at all in what mathematics really is and what the best mathematicians really do (and you're up for an intellectual challenge), I highly recommend that you get a copy and set some time aside for delving into this unusual book. . . . Harris manages to move back and forth between the deepest ideas about mathematics at the frontiers of the subject, insightful takes on the sociology of mathematical research, and a variety of topics pursued in a sometimes gonzo version of post-modern academic style. You will surely sometimes be baffled, but definitely will come away knowing about many things you'd never heard of before, and with a lot of new ideas to think about."--Peter Woit, Not Even Wrong

"[A] wry and insightful look at what being a pure mathematician is all about, as seen from the inside."--Steven Strogatz, Physics Today

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    File created: 9/19/2015

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