Category: Books

The Joys & Perils of Mathematics

Have been reading this book, Arcimedes’ Revenge which is about the enigma that pure mathematics truly is! Was a lot like getting back to my old love..!!

  Legend has it that the Greek philosopher & mathematician, Archimedes, in a fit of rage, composed an insanely difficult numerical problem about grazing cattle. His revenge was felt for twenty-two hundred years, until 1981, when the problem was finally disposed of by a fledgling super-computer.  The frustration that generations of mathematicians felt in the face of Archimedes’ revenge resembles that caused by simpler mathematical problems that arise more naturally. Here is the original problem as stated by Archimedes!

      The revenge of mathematics on her followers were best summed up by these lines penned by an anonymous writer:

                             “ A formidable student at Trinity

                                Solved the square root of infinity;

                              It gave him such fidgets

                             To count up the digits

                             He chucked math & took up Divinity.”



Its been quite some time that I happened to hear about this man, Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn. For the uninitiated he is a Russian author who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. When one hears about Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Arcipelago cannot be really far behind.

       The book in 3 parts is about the Soviet slave labour camps under Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili better known as Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator after Lenin who was responsible for the obliteration of 11 million of his own countrymen.  The Gulag is an acronym which stands for Glavnoe Upravnei LAGerei – which is the Russian equivalent of Main Camp Administration. Solzhenitsyn brilliantly portrays the oppression that people endured under the Communist Regime & the farcical circumstances that were played out to incarcerate people on charges of being unfaithful to the Motherland & to the Revolution. What probably stands out is the meticulous detail that he has harped on, given the fact that he himself had been a prisoner in the GULAG for more than a decade. The book is based totally on his memory of people & events during his incarceration.   

         A haunting reminder of the life that prisoners endured out here is probably best reflected in these lines of his from the book, “Even the absence of variety can be sensed as satisfaction when a variety of dissatisfactions has preceded it. After camp, which had already seemed endless & after a 10 hour workday after cold, rain & aching back, oh, what happiness there was to lie there on one’s back for whole days on end, to sleep & nevertheless receive a pound & a half of bread & two hot meals a day- made from cattle feed or dolphin’s flesh. In a word, the “BuTyur” , Health Resort. “

      A must read for anyone who appreciates history & strong writing & of course the ones with Communist leanings.