Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure by Cédric Villani (Translated by Malcolm DeBevoise) - review by Andrew Crumey

Andrew Crumey

Go Forth & Multiply

Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure


The Bodley Head 260pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

There is no Nobel Prize for mathematics, but there is the Fields Medal. Cédric Villani won it in 2010, and his curious memoir tells how. Rather than being a straightforward account of the mathematician’s life, or a step-by-step explanation of the problem he worked on, the book is a collage of emails, equations, quotations and observations, painting a dizzying picture of frankly unfathomable genius. Put it this way: I’m a PhD-level mathematician and, after reading this book, I still can’t figure out exactly what Villani did. But it was a fun ride.

Although comparable to the Nobel Prize in prestige, the Fields Medals are crucially different, being awarded only every four years to a maximum of four mathematicians under forty. Any contender has to be something of a wunderkind and Villani (born in France in 1973) fully fits the bill, in terms

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter