Review: Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure by Cédric Villani

Review: Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure by Cédric Villani

Jun 27, 2016, 9:16:20 PM Entertainment

‘’An image of strength, but also of abandonment and vulnerability. This idea appeals to me; you can’t expect to look forward if you’re not prepared to expose yourself to chance, risk, even danger.’’


Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure follows the story of the French mathematical genius Cédric Villani as he attempts to solve the Boltzmann equation, and wrestles with Landau Damping, which will eventually prove him worthy of the most prestigious prize in mathematics. It is a tale of obstacles and solutions, partnerships, self-doubt and leaps of faith.

Despite not being particularly gifted in mathematics myself, I really enjoyed this book. I could not understand the vast majority of the equations, and even after having read the novel I still do not have much of an understanding of the Boltzmann equation or Landau Damping but that does not in any way detract from the appreciation of the work that Villani has composed. It is interesting enough to watch the work unfold, and become the award-winning research that it was through perseverance and collaboration. 

Do not be put off of this book simply because its primary focus is mathematics because aside from the mathematical prowess displayed within the novel, it has so much more to offer. Cédric Villani is an incredibly engaging narrator, with a beautiful turn of phrase. He combines his love of mathematics with a love of poetry, music and a child-like admiration for those who have inspired him which is an absolute joy to read. Villani often details the history of those he is inspired by, and there is the added accompaniment of charming illustrations of the people that he comes into contact with. There is also some humour in there too, for example when Villani describes himself as ‘’untroubled by the thought of crime’’ as he steals some tea bags from the common room of the School of Mathematics.

I found this book to be an unlikely inspiration, and often found myself engrossed and entertained by the chase of a solution. I particularly enjoyed how Villani intertwined normal everyday life with the abstract world of mathematics, and found his character to be the most charming aspect of the novel. Birth of a Theorem is undoubtedly one of the best science books that I have read, and I would recommend it to anyone whether you are mathematically inclined or not. 

Published by Erin Deakin

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