Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review of "The G. H. Hardy Reader," edited by Donald J. Albers, Gerald L. Alexanderson and William Dunham

Review of

The G. H. Hardy Reader, edited by Donald J. Albers, Gerald L. Alexanderson and William Dunham, a joint publication of The Mathematical Association of America, Washington, D. C. and Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom. 410 pp., $49.99 (paper). ISBN 9781107594647.

Five out of five stars

 Godfrey Harold (G. H.) Hardy was half of what some considered to be the three greatest mathematicians of the first half of the twentieth century, Hardy, Littlewood and Hardy/Littlewood. Hardy was a first rate mathematician and also considered to be a superb author, his most famous work is “A Mathematician’s Apology,” written late in life after his math skills had faded. Published in 1940 as World War II was reaching full fury, it remains one of the best explanations of the world of mathematicians as well as a human description of a professional past his prime looking back on his career. That aspect of the book can be applied to everyone from welders to physicians.
 Yet, despite all of his personal achievements, Hardy’s greatest contribution to mathematics was his reaction to an unsolicited letter from an unknown Indian man named Srinivasa Ramanujan. When asked by Paul Erdős what his greatest accomplishment was, Hardy did not hesitate in responding that it was his “discovery” of Ramanujan.
 Given the breadth and depth of Hardy’s work, the emphasis here is on the breadth with a few points delving deeper into the depth. While there are some short pieces containing advanced mathematics, most of the content can be understood by the general undergraduate. What makes this book worthy of being used in a multi-discipline liberal arts course is that it is about the man and not so much about the math. It shows a mathematician that was very much a man of the world, even though he rejected much of it, specifically religion.
 This is a book that demonstrates the essence of Hardy that made him someone that was willing to take a serious look at a letter from the British colony of India. Rather than adopting the attitude that colonial subjects could have nothing meaningful to say, Hardy read it and acted on it. That one act demonstrates that at times the way to be great is to be humble. 

This book was made available for free for review purposes.

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