I occasionally talk to sixth-form students who are wondering whether or not to study maths at university. I point out that maths leads to an incredible array of career opportunities, from finance jobs in the City to the animation industry in Hollywood, from security posts at GCHQ to modelling the climate.
However, I am always quick to stress that studying maths is about more than just getting a pay cheque. It is also about exploring a landscape of abstract mystery and striving for solutions to baffling and beautiful problems. For the last couple of years, I have made this point by spending a couple of minutes telling students the inspiring story of Grigori Perelman.
Masha Gessen’s Perfect Rigour recounts the same story in more detail, charting the life of Perelman from schoolboy prodigy to the maverick maths genius who provided the first great mathematical proof of the twenty-first century.
Perelman’s mother, Lubov, had a promising career in maths before abandoning it