The general tone of negative and middling reviews for this book suggest why it is (especially in countries like the United States) that while popularThe general tone of negative and middling reviews for this book suggest why it is (especially in countries like the United States) that while popular science seems to be embraced more and more by the masses, actual scientific and mathematical literary seems to be on the decline or finds itself at least consistently below average.
The autobiographical part of the book weaves through the mathematics well enough and is very interesting in its own right, from its reflections on Russian mathematics to the antisemitism implicit in Soviet university administration that the author was directly confronted with on his academic journey. As for the maths, you'd think reading such an earnest and painstakingly clarified account of the forefront of mathematical research (producing at least a couple of Fields Medals in the last few years) merits taking out paper and pencil to try and reproduce some of the author's arguments (mostly verifying basic properties), or at least a careful read of the chapter notes. Apparently not!- it's bite-sized memes and pretty pictures or nothing (as with popular science on television and certain intelligent-seeming books by Gladwell and the like; on the other hand some sources try not to compromise too much; for instance the Numberphile Youtube channel on which Frenkel has had appearances).
This response is disappointing, but I still think a keen high school student (and not necessarily as keen as Frenkel appears to have been) or even a not so keen one might find something beautiful about mathematics in this book and be persuaded to follow it (likely with the odds considerably more in their favour than for Frenkel in Soviet Russia). Certainly Frenkel's greatest achievement here is communicating as simply as possible (but making it no simpler) the essential motivation behind Galois groups, representations, Lie theory and Langlands duality. There's also a compelling bird's eye view from his experience working on the programme, but the returns for the average reader are greatest when it comes to the motivations and basic definitions and arguments. Such persuasion would be a considerable enough ambition fulfilled, whatever the book's success with a lay audience not willing to deviate the slightest from the expectation of a novel-like experience whatever the gains that might be in store....more
More a 3/5 in my mind (the accounts are generally fascinating), but I want to offset the ratings of those whose only issue with the book seems to be tMore a 3/5 in my mind (the accounts are generally fascinating), but I want to offset the ratings of those whose only issue with the book seems to be that the author isn't as gripped with pity for the animals featured as they'd like....more
There are two entries for this here that ought to be merged.
The level varies somewhat. Highlights for me were Razborov's excellent sleek introductionThere are two entries for this here that ought to be merged.
The level varies somewhat. Highlights for me were Razborov's excellent sleek introduction to computational complexity theory (one of the best of its kind), Smale's article that can be read as something of a follow up, each of Cartier's articles and the one by Manin....more
Truly, this is why I love manga- you can have a series with a title like this, but it can turn out to be something deeply affecting, provided you canTruly, this is why I love manga- you can have a series with a title like this, but it can turn out to be something deeply affecting, provided you can be persuaded to pick it up. There are no haughty airs or pretensions, but also no limits in the sense of subject matter or having to pander to secure a particular audience. Together these factors constitute a healthy background for any genre of literature.
The story concerns alienation, but it's far twisted from The Catcher in the Rye (go ahead, plays on the name are practically invited), to which it occasionally refers and its ilk. Early on the parody elements (Death Note, Code Geass, Detective Conan, etc.- again, feel free to play on the names; a scanlator went with Fap Note at one point) suggest this might go on as a somewhat disturbing ecchi comedy, but the moment the protagonist (hitherto an observer whose daring is confined to a single forbidden cubicle) feels a spark of sympathy and decides to act true to said confines his life revolves around, a different course is set. We follow from here on a malicious bargain that gets out of hand when the protagonist finds himself drawn in by true passion for the first time in his life, while his interlocutor, the object of his earlier sympathy, seems to further recede into a shell as she is 'empowered' to make him do her bidding on pain of exposure. It is this bargain and the budding friendships and romantic relationships in its backdrop that it ultimately threatens that provide the core tension of the story.
The title derives from an unexpected stand that broadens the narrative's scope and focuses on the nature of atonement, of setting an example at an unknown cost to oneself. The climax-free authenticity of events hereafter is something like you would find in a Haruki Murakami story (I was also reminded of Toradora as I read this, although that lacks both the stakes and the malice of Kurosawa). Trust can be a difficult thing to regain, but sometimes motivations resonate and the gravity of an act from which one gains nothing speaks to us. The bludgeon to alienation is really coming to know other minds under, not the worst-case assumptions, but those that seem true to us. The protagonist also learns that intensity is not all there is to a feeling and should not be what one must fear the loss of; returns may diminish, but the opportunity to connect and to feel ought to be seen as worth something in itself. This most fascinating part proceeds episodically- not quite hurried, but I feel some expansion might have helped.
I've kept the above free of specific spoilers by speaking as generally as I could, but I think it gets at the message the author is trying to convey. Curiously, I was thinking about the relative strengths of the social and sexual stimuli (the intellectual, being reason for its own sake, lags far behind) in humans shortly before I found this. The social stimulus very often overwhelms the sexual, and I suppose this story's claim to authenticity hinges on this hypothesis; it's the reason this isn't just a moralising tale about not being anti-social or a chronic self-abuser or what not. There's a short story epilogue to this which confirms for me another important fact of life- always go for the tsundere.
The comedic potential of the series may be somewhat underused once things get going (towards the end of the first volume), so I propose an anime adaptation, which can then be made into an abridged series on Youtube to the inappropriate amusement of all....more
Certain highlights of this book provide a taste for more extensive treatments elsewhere. For instance, if you liked the D&D explanation of combiniCertain highlights of this book provide a taste for more extensive treatments elsewhere. For instance, if you liked the D&D explanation of combining chromosomes from the 'Self Fertilisation' chapter, you could very profitably try The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. If you liked the comparison between computers and brains, you'd likely enjoy titles like Mayfield's Engine of Complexity, Aaronson's Quantum Computing Since Democritus (if you're up to tackling some maths) and even Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow or a slew of neuroscience titles saturating the market these days.
That said, the primary virtue of What If? is to show how absurd-seeming thought experiments can be brought down to (if still staggering) concrete size using dimensional and quantitative reasoning. This is most apparent when Munroe answers physics and engineering questions, but also comes through on logistical considerations. It might have significant value as one of those 'how to beat the interview' books that are often aimed at aspiring quants and coders.
The 'Weird (and Worrying) Questions...' sections that come up between chapters as manic relief might be surreptitiously giving you the opportunity to try your own hand at what the author is doing- or at least think up an approach towards an answer if not fully answer outright with the due research.
I've been frequenting the site and xkcd a while now (there's a nice Android app I've found called xkcd Browser which bundles a viewer for What If? and even links to Explain xkcd), but the book is really well done and worth having (also a fine gift I imagine, given the humour). Though I tried at first to be stern and strike a star off the rating (my high average rating is purely a careful selection effect), there's really no complaint I can make except the feeble one that it's too short. Once you're into it you'll probably be done on the same sitting or the very next....more