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Perfect Rigor: A Genius and the Mathematical Breakthrough of the Century

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  704 Ratings  ·  80 Reviews
A gripping and tragic tale that sheds rare light on the unique burden of genius



In 2006, an eccentric Russian mathematician named Grigori Perelman solved the Poincare Conjecture, an extremely complex topological problem that had eluded the best minds for over a century. A prize of one million dollars was offered to anyone who could unravel it, but Perelman declined the winn
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Hardcover, 256 pages
Published November 11th 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2009)
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Joel Maybe the author lives on GroB-straBe in DüBeldorf. Or maybe she frequents Ye Olde Tavern in England.
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Community Reviews

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David
Nov 02, 2015 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From an Amazon user:

By rbnn (Berkeley, CA United States)

This is the first review on Amazon I've written for which I had difficulty determining whether the book merited one or five stars.

Based purely on the information in the book and the story the book tells, it's easily a five-star book.

The author beautifully weaves together fascinating strands of narrative: the bizarre yet powerful culture of mathematics education in the former Soviet Union; the extraordinary brilliance of Grisha Perelman;
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Nick Black
Nov 04, 2009 Nick Black rated it liked it
Recommended to Nick by: David Cash
Ehhhh, I was expecting a good deal more than that. The New Yorker article from 2006 was better reading overall ("Manifold Destiny", http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006...).
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Ahhh, Perelman, you ultimate enigma. Upon this book's arrival, I will lock myself in the bathroom with a liter of homebrewed absinthe, a 24-pack of TaB, and my weight in Dover Mathematical Publishing. I will read it, probably several times. I will come away as confounded as I arrived, and likely several pounds lighter.
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David Buckley
Jan 27, 2010 David Buckley rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mathematics

An engrossing and fascinating look at the mind and social milieu of the great Soviet mathematician, Grigory ("Grisha") Perelman. That this exotic (and "Greek") mathematical culture could thrive in the midst of one of the Twentieth Century's most repressive regimes is astonishing in and of itself. That it could produce such extraordinary mathematical minds --driven as much by a love of aesthetic beauty in poetry or music as they were by the austere rigor of mathematical logic-- is a testament to
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Nguyễn
Apr 27, 2015 Nguyễn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Perelman là một nhà toán học, một con người dị thường. Là nhà toán học, chứng minh được giả thuyết Poincare-một trong bảy vấn đề thiên niên kỷ do viện Clay đặt ra-nhưng Perelman từ chối nhận huy chương Fields danh giá và sau đó là giải thưởng triệu đô từ viện Clay. Dưới góc độ một con người, Perelman chỉ sống trong hệ quy chiếu của riêng mình, gần như chấm dứt mọi hoạt động giao tiếp với xã hội bên ngoài, kể cả với cộng đồng toán học. Đối với những người ngoài cuộc, đặc biệt là ở Việt Nam, thì ...more
Sarah
Jan 22, 2011 Sarah rated it liked it
Shelves: math-science
An admirable attempt at writing about a mathematician who is more myth than man. Gessen also provides a fascinating inside look at the Russian system of training young mathematicians for competitions. Way different from the donuts and pseudo-cheerleading that accompanied my math club competitions. Still, I feel a better book could have -- and should have -- been written about Perelman. Maybe he'll open up some day and allow that to happen.
Graham
Sep 15, 2012 Graham rated it liked it
The long sections about Russian mistreatment of Jewish academics became rather tedious. Some interesting details about Asperger's syndrome. By no means enough about the Mathematics.
Ross
Dec 25, 2014 Ross rated it liked it
I found this book fascinating on several levels because it touches on several areas of interest to me. First, the modern field of mathematics and the remaining great proofs to be solved. Second, the state of the USSR as it stumbled toward its demise in the 1980's as Reagan upped the ante on military strength and broke the back of the Soviet economy. Finally, the nature of human genius. How astounding it is that an infinitesimal fraction of humans have mental powers so far above the scale of the ...more
Ron
Jan 02, 2012 Ron rated it it was amazing
Masha Gessen's book is a biography of a person who is quite alive - as far as we know. But it is written as one would write a biography for a subject who is dead, because the subject of the book, Grigory "Grisha" Perelman, has withdrawn himself from the world, mathematics and otherwise. This is then more of a story of how and why Perelman, the most accomplished mathematician of this new century, managed this withdrawal. It is a strange and at times infuriating story, but one told by a uniquely ...more
Terri
Feb 10, 2014 Terri rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mathematics
Grisha Perelman arrived at the Leningrad math club in the fall of 1976, a pudgy, awkward boy.

Sergei Rukshin, a nineteen year old with no coaching or teaching experience and in fact a once troublesome youth, becomes Perelman's math coach.

Russia, the poverty ridden communist country, was somehow able to produce mathematical genius. In the hopeless country, a pencil and paper were the keys to mathematical superiority in the world. "So it is perhaps no accident that the founders of the dissident mov
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Adam
Jul 08, 2011 Adam rated it really liked it
Shelves: mathematics
I thought this was a very interesting book to read. As a mathematician I certainly saw the faculty at my university abuzz over the solution of the Poincare Conjecturé. Then some odd circumstances happened and the author of the proof started to decline awards and accolades. This probably drew even more attention to him as he was trying to get away from world. It is somewhat of an unfortunate story in some respects, because it appears he has decided to leave the mathematical field altogether. Who ...more
Andrew Martin
Apr 22, 2014 Andrew Martin rated it really liked it
very good. insightful explication of the Russian educational system + a portrait of a exceptionally singular mind.

writing a biography with no access to its subject is a difficult endeavor - one that Giessen handles with grace. there's a suggestion in some of the reviews below that the book is hostile in its treatment of Perelman, but I don't think anything could be further from the truth. Perelman is a difficult figure, possessed of a certain hostility toward the outside world. Gessen takes the
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Worm
Jul 03, 2012 Worm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating read about one of the most stimulating mathematical journeys of recent times. In turns it is a detailed look at Grigory Perelman, a recent history of Russian mathematics and a more general look at the international mathematics community. This is more of a social history than anything; there are few mathematical details, and no real hard science. This is both a strength and a limitation. Personally, I would have, perhaps, liked more of the technical details but this would maybe have ...more
Ishaan Sood
Jan 16, 2014 Ishaan Sood rated it liked it
A tragic tale, not recommended to those pursuing research interests and expecting the world to acknowledge the same with gratitude. Perelman would never enter the limelight and would only be known to the closed community of topology mathematicians- undeserving for someone who solved the Poincare conjecture. Gessen emphasises how his works are breakthrough and how little he received from the society, why he rejected the Fields Medal, why he rejected the Clay Institute reward of million dollars ...more
Iris
Jan 08, 2010 Iris rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone not particularly fascinated by math, the USSR, or Asperger's -- you'll be amazed
Shelves: science
"Writing about a man who does not wish to be written about is an unusual undertaking."
- Masha Gessen, in the acknowledgements section.

Also unusual is Gessen's achievement: an absorbing study of the USSR, of math communities, and the very strange, brilliant Grigory "Grisha" Perelman, a young Russian eccentric who solved the Poincaré Conjecture. Using geometry, he tackled a 100-year old question about a four-dimensional sphere. His life leads up to his solution; after the solution, a dissolution
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Dan Richter
Nov 21, 2016 Dan Richter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Dan by: Jochen Schmidt
Sich als Autorin Biografie des eremitisch lebenden Mathematik-Genies und Asperger-Autisten Perelman zu nähern muss ein Spaziergang auf einem Minenfeld gleichen. Man kann es sich eigentlich nur mit jedem verderben, den man interviewt. Denn jeder, der mit ihm zu tun hatte und sich zu einem Gespräch mit Gessen bereiterklärte, hat seine sehr eigene Meinung über Perelman und eine eigene Theorie über die Motive seines erratischen Handelns.
In mancherlei Hinsicht entspricht er so sehr dem Klischee des e
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Salim
Jul 26, 2010 Salim rated it liked it
This biography suffers greatly from a lack of first-person interviews, and the subject does not reveal much about his motivation or ideas through his writing and meagre friendships.
Michael Connolly
Apr 01, 2013 Michael Connolly rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed, mathematics
Youth
Grisha Perelman’s was born in 1966 to Jewish parents. Grisha’s mother Lubov had studied mathematics as an undergraduate. She decided not to become a research mathematician, and instead became a teacher and raised a family. In 1976, one of Lubov’s old teachers, Garold Natanson, arranged for Grisha to be tutored by a mathematics coach named Sergei Rukshin, a student at Leningrad State University. Rukshin had started a mathematics club called the Leningrad Palace of Pioneers (now called the Ma
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Robin
Jul 17, 2014 Robin rated it liked it
Shelves: mathematics
Det var en fantastisk mediehistorie, da Grigory Perelman i november 2002 offentliggjorde sit bevis for Poincarés formodning på arXiv, og senere nægtede at modtage Fieldsmedaljen for sin bedrift. For en uge siden blev Perelman så tilbudt Milleniumprisen, som han også afslog at modtage. Nu er der kommet en fremragende biografi om denne mand, der har løst et af matematikkens sværeste problemer og sagt farvel til verden.

Hvad er Poincarés formodning? I 1904 sagde den franske matematiker Henri Pioncar
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Will Nelson
Jan 25, 2016 Will Nelson rated it really liked it
This is an interesting book that tells the strange story of Grigory Perelman, who proved the famous Poincare Conjecture and then refused all subsequent awards. Along the way one also learns a lot about the Soviet method of training mathematicians and the mathematical communities in several different countries. Gessen clearly knows more mathematics than the average journalist, and is a good guide to these topics.

I have to admit that after reading the book I found Perelman's reactions just as puz
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Darrenglass
Jan 15, 2010 Darrenglass rated it really liked it
[This review will also appear on MAA Online]

The story of Grigory Perelman and the Poincare Conjecture is certainly one of the more compelling and, to most people, strange stories in modern mathematics. You start with a long-standing open conjecture and combine this with a genius who clearly has a conflicted relationship with the mathematical community and whether he wants to be a part of it. The genius may or may not have solved the problem and the story has all kinds of narrative tension as the
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Kitty Jay
In 2000, the Clay Institute announced the Millennium Problems: seven of the great mathematical mysteries. Anyone who solved one of these illustrious mysteries could lay claim to one of the greatest accomplishments in math history, as well as a prize of a million dollars. Two years later, a man named Grigory Perelman submitted what would later be established as the solution to the Poincare Conjecture – but rather than becoming an international superstar, Perelman rejected the fiscal prize and ...more
Robert Boyd
Apr 20, 2012 Robert Boyd rated it really liked it
Shelves: russia, mathematics

Grigory Perelman is a Russian who solved one of mathematics' thorniest problems, the Poincare Conjecture. With this achievement, Perelman could have taken his place on the faculty at any number of elite institutions with a tenured position, and he could have claimed the Clay prize ($1 million). Instead, he angrily closed off all contact with all his colleagues (and the rest of humanity), quit his position at a research institute in St. Petersburg, and retreated into his apartment where his only
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Vichy
Mar 28, 2013 Vichy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ξεκίνησα να μάθω για τον Πέρελμαν από περιέργεια. Αυτή η διάνοια της εποχής μας τι κατάφερε και για ποιο λόγο αρνήθηκε όσα βραβεία του προσέφεραν αρνούμενος ακόμα και 1.000.000 δολάρια από την μαθηματική εταιρεία Κλέι. Όταν η συγγραφέας ομολόγησε ότι δεν μπόρεσε να του πάρει ούτε μία συνέντευξη και ότι το πιο πιθανόν να αρνιόταν να διαβάσει και το βιβλίο της όταν θα ολοκληρωνόταν, σκέφτηκα πώς ήταν δυνατόν να υπάρξει μια πλήρης εικόνα του ποιος είναι τελικά ο Πέρελμαν! Το βιβλίο,όμως, ήταν μια ...more
Dave
Nov 07, 2009 Dave rated it really liked it
“Pefect Rigor” is an interesting look at the life and mind of a mathematical genius. Masha Geesen draws on her own experience as a math whiz in Russia, as well as the associates of Grigory Perelman to take a look at his life, and the unique character, ethics, and morals which have led him to turn down the Fields Medal. Masha Geesen had a difficult task in front of her, as Grigory Perelman was not likely to give her any information directly, and his associates were also hesitant to cause any ...more
My Pseudonym
May 23, 2010 My Pseudonym rated it really liked it
A very good insight into the mind of the illusive genius: Grigori Perelman. Perelman comes across as a pure mathematician in every sense of the term. Perelman thought the discovery of the proof behind the Poincare Conjecture was important; not the person who discovered it. He regarded the pecuniary ($1 million dollar) reward for the discovery as an insult, and this seemed to deter him from the world of mathematics even further. Perelman comes across as a purely honest mathematician - too honest ...more
Natalie Bylewskaya
Oct 24, 2014 Natalie Bylewskaya rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Изыскание истины должно
быть целью нашей деятельности:
это единственная цель которая достойна её.
Анри Пуанкаре

Не могу сказать, что математика является предметом моих интересов. Конечно, еще со школьной скамьи помнится определенный азарт, желание решить задачу красиво. Но, цитируя Машу Гессен, "школьная арифметика соотносится с высшей математикой примерно так, как конкурс по спеллингу — с искусством романиста". Поэтому эта книга стала для меня дверью в мир совершенной строгости, с его величием,
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Moshe Zioni
Full disclosure - i love mathematics and topology was one of the most eclectic, elegant and eccentric topics I have encountered during my very basic degree.

I had to give that disclosure in order to properly apologizing on not giving this marvelous topic more than three star rating.

Thing is that maybe I am the cause of not liking it as I have should, but mainly because this book is not about math, not really. It IS about Dr Perlman but heis left an outsider to this biography and psychological ana
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Yofish
Really 3.5

A story about Perelman, his proof of Poincarre, and his gradual hermitting of himself. Really, too little math in it for me. And it was lacking in math in weird places---like showing a problem given to 7th-graders, but not following up or explaining. It was written by a Russian Jew about the same age as Perelman. And there was a lot about how math in the Soviet Union developed since Stalin or so. (It was a little bit isolated from politics simply because it was so necessary for war eff
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Jas
Oct 27, 2012 Jas rated it liked it
Most of the book draws from accounts of Perelman from his closest circle. The second best thing, considering Perelman rarely agrees to being interviewed. Other than his interview with the New York Times (the excellent article titled Manifold Destiny)after solving Poincare and a few email messages, Perelman's actual thinking can only by inferred. The book paints a picture of an autistic genius, living like an ascetic with a fascinatingly unique take on life.

His motives for not claiming the famous
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Ken
Apr 05, 2010 Ken rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Ken by: Author interview on NPR
This book really took me by surprise. Masha Gessen did a really good job with the small amount of information that she had to go off of. Still it was more information than the subject of the book, Grigory Perelman would have liked her to have. This book is the story of a Russian mathematician who solved this centuries greatest mathematical problem and refused to play by the rules. When forced to try to be rewarded for his efforts, Perelman closed himself off from the world; leaving the ...more
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Social Policy and...: Is it possible to excel without conventional rewards? 4 7 Oct 19, 2012 06:10AM  
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Masha Gessen (born 1967) is a Russian journalist and author.
Born into an Ashkenazi Jewish family in Russia, in 1981 she moved with her family to the United States, returning in 1991 to Moscow where she lives now.[1] Her brother is Keith Gessen.
She writes in both Russian and English, and has contributed to The New Republic, New Statesman, Granta and Slate. Gessen is the Russian correspondent for US
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More about Masha Gessen...

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