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


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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

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