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A Mathematician's Apology

(Canto Classics)

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  5,479 ratings  ·  378 reviews
Written in 1940 as his mathematical powers were declining, G.H. Hardy's apology offers an engaging account of the thoughts of a man known for his eccentricities as well as his brilliance in mathematics.
Paperback, 153 pages
Published January 31st 1992 by Cambridge University Press (first published 1940)
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A Serious Business of Taste

The dominant theme of A Mathematician’s Apology, established from the first page, is one of aesthetics. Aesthetics, the study of what is inherently important and valuable, is for Hardy the fundamental power of mathematics, not an incidental result of correct thought. Aesthetics, while not unique to mathematics, is arguably more single-mindedly applied in mathematics than in any other human activity, including art of all kinds.

Hardy, like many poets and artists as well
I nearly studied maths at university, because of this book.

When I was sixteen, I was scared of the grades and numbers end of academia, and I was determined that whatever I was going to study - and it was going to be something, and a lot of it - I was going to do it for the love of it. I was going to read around my subjects, follow tangents and pick whatever took my fancy. So, a few months into a Maths A-level, I took this out of Southampton Central Library, and I didn't give it back for nearly a
☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~  ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣
A pragmatist's review of how math fits into our knowledge, world and psyche.
The mass of mathematical truth is obvious and imposing; its practical applications, the bridges and steam-engines and dynamos, obtrude themselves on the dullest imagination. The public does not need to be convinced that there is something in mathematics. (c)
I am a lawyer, or a stockbroker, or a professional cricketer, because I have some real talent for that particular job. I am a lawyer because I have a fluent tongu
May 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
Amusing, even if it was as sad as the introduction suggested. Read it in high school, but haven't since. Glad I took another crack at it. It just about made me want to crack open one of my math books! I enjoyed the style of exposition, as well as much of the message, though, admittedly, I probably lost track of an argument here or there.

I think avoided pulling out some of the more quoted passages, though I'm sure these aren't entirely original selections:

68: If a man has any genuine talent, he s
Apr 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
I wonder how much my enjoyment of this book was hampered by my mathematical incompetence. Not too much, I hope. CP Snow’s introduction is as good as the book, but you can’t fault Hardy with not giving you something to chew on. Rather than try to summarize my feelings about Hardy’s little book, I’m going to take the lazy option here and simply repost from my blog:


In A Mathematician’s Apology G.H. Hardy estimates that only five or ten people in a hundred can do something “rather well.” Considerab
Roy Lotz
Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: math
The first thing the reader of this book will notice is that Hardy is an excellent writer. Although he repeatedly insists that his only talent lay in his mathematical ability, it is clear that he is a seasoned wordsmith.

The first mark of a good writer is their seemingly effortless ability to convey their personality through the written word, no matter the subject or format. The reader is immediately presented with Hardy the man, as if he is sitting in front of you giving a lecture.

One of the draw
Mark Hebwood
Aug 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful time I had with this book. GH Hardy, one of last century’s towering mathematical figures now known to a wider audience through the film “The Man Who Knew Infinity”, looks back on his life at a time when, by his own testimony, his mathematical genius was fading.

The opening lines establish a sense of melancholy that I was never quite able to banish when reading his memoir:

It is a melancholy experience for a professional mathematician to find himself writing about mathematics. The
Sep 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The text may be found at

I had the good fortune to come across this title just as I was finally beginning to see the glimmers of beauty in mathematics thanks to the efforts of some wonderful instructors on the subject during my later school years. It called upon me for a deeper reflection on my chosen pursuit, which at that point appealed to me for its fundamental importance to the other sciences and for the simple pleasure that can be gleaned of it. I was
Feb 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
I object not to the message, but rather its form. Essentially, GH argues that mathematics is worth the world's time and effort--that it is a beautiful, creative, and noble pursuit. I'm already convinced of this, so maybe I'm not his target audience and should therefore shut up. I've spent a non-trivial amount of around mathematicians. They are almost a different species, and I envy their passion and analytic abilities. While I'm glad GH tried to be their advocate--which must've been more necessa ...more
Nov 12, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: math
Recently I started teaching myself to program. An article I read recommended Project Euler, which is a set of math exercises intended to be completed with computer code. So for the last few months I've been doing more writing than reading, as I puzzled through these math problems. Research on various problems led to me to other math websites, and often G.H. Hardy's short book "A Mathematician's Apology" was mentioned in various contexts. I picked it up, and found a lot of what Hardy wrote applie ...more
Mar 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Here's a reason one might want to read this book. In his introduction, C.P. Snow points out that Hardy's capacity for dissimulation "was always minimial." And he goes on to illustrate this with a passage in the Apology where Hardy says, "I do not remember having felt, as a boy, any passion for mathematics, and such notions as I may have had of the career of a mathematician were far from noble. I thought of mathematics in terms of examinations and scholarships; I wanted to beat other boys, and th ...more
Mar 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This memoir from G.H Hardy has truly changed my perception of mathematics and mathematicians. Hardy is a remarkable man, though unusual (he likes cricket!) and with collaborations with Littlewood and Ramanujan he made astonishing breakthroughs in the mathematical field. The one thing which struck me in this novel was Hardy's sorrow caused by old age, he seemed in mourning for the creativity and drive for mathematics that he had once held. Some of his deep emotions are layed bare in this novel, a ...more
Laura Méndez
Dec 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
I read this book because it was quoted in a coursera class about Genetics and Evolution. The quote was: "I have never done anything ‘useful’. No discovery of mine has
made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill,
the least difference to the amenity of the world." Interestingly, one of Hardy's equation called the "Hardy-Weinberg's equation" is used in genetics, in population allele analysis and in fact it has become very useful for geneticians that ultimately benefit medici
Anh Dinh
Oct 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
As Hardy pointed out himself, criticisms are work of second-rate mind. This book is awesome, it sheds so much light on what is going on inside mathematician's mind. I particularly like the part when he argues why mathematics is beautiful, and what constitutes a beautiful mathematical theorem.
Dec 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, mathematics
Mr. Hardy explains the difference between pure and applied mathematics. Math history thrown in and some stories about Bertrand Russell and others. There's also a hint of defensiveness as he tries to explain the beauty of spending a life on math that has no real world applications.
Nov 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Like Letters to a Young Poet for Mathematicians. Only depressing instead of uplifting. Loved it.
Oct 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
I'm finally actually getting to it. I just read the wonderful 50+ page intro my C.P. Snow (one of my heros). The intro is almost as long as the actual Hardy part. Apparently Graham Greene, in a review, said that along with Henry James' notebooks, Hardy's book was the best description of what it's like to be a creative artist. Despite much googling, I sadly cannot find a copy of the original Greene review. Perhaps I'll finish the rest this evening, if the wonderful Indian food we're off to eat wi ...more
Bill Johnston
Jul 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Despite how well known it is, and how many say it speaks for mathematics, I am unable to give this book a high rating. I doubt the less-than-stellar 50 page introduction to a 100 page book biased me against the actual A Mathematician's Apology. The Apology is a long-winded, repetitive statement of a few core beliefs of mathematics professors: that pure math is better than applied, that logic is better than reality, and that they can take satisfaction that their actions will neither help nor harm ...more
Though at some places Hardy shows almost intolerable snobbery, I am a physicist, this book reads good and provides some food for the mind.
Mengsen Zhang
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I give five stars relative to my expectation - I was totally surprised how much I liked this book. I was taking an after-lunch walk in the library and suddenly the name came to mind, so I pick it up from the shelf. I was expecting some self-important manifesto with little information. I was wrong. Though often sounds like he has no interaction with the world outside of mathematics, he's pretty honest. He started off by saying that serious mathematicians do math, don't write stuff about math. I w ...more
May 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
Since I have recommended this book to some friends, I'd better review it for them. It isn't going to be easy, just like the book wasn't easy to read, so here goes nothing:

1. This is an enlightening book, especially if you are looking to create some form of original work in academics. Are you planning on writing a doctorate thesis at some point? Read this, because it puts forth another academician's ideas about what a good contribution is. It helps that Hardy managed very well for himself.

Even i
Boian Alexandrov
Jan 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is a challenging novel. It is not a thriller, historical book or anything you’ve ever read. This is a book written by a Grand Master Mathematician telling the story about his Apprentice, the young genius Ramanujan, and about the wonderful creativity and the internal urge that, although rare, exist in some people on Earth making them search for the harmony and beauty of the Universe.

Even if you do not know anything about Mathematics you will begin to feel the World of Ideas, although indirec
May 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I am a bit of a sucker for esoteric works that stand out beyond their field. One of my favorite books is Eric Gill's Essay on Typography, for example. So I had asked for recommendations in an online forum, and this was one of the ones that was suggested. It was the only one that wasn't from the hard sciences, and it wasn't that long, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Honestly, I barely finished it. If it weren't that I am this particular type of sucker, and also that I had a goal of reading a cer ...more
Jenni  Lunde
Jun 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who enjoy reading and despise math
Recommended to Jenni by: Jim Hendrickson, a Calculus professor
This is something that English-loving people who hate math should read. Hardy was, in his terms, a "pure" (not applied or even "useful") mathematician. This means that he saw his world in terms of math (very complicated math), even though he realized that his world of math does not always represent "reality." In fact, in this work, he comes to think of math in terms of art, since it is made up entirely of human ideas and is open to play and interpretation. He also makes the obvious parallel of m ...more
Nov 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I got to know prof. Hardy after watching the movie about him and Ramanujan, which inspired me to know more of his personal life and professional work. G.H. Hardy has been famous for his brilliance in mathematics and eccentric character at the same time. This book tries to give a brief insight to mathematicians life in 29 chapters such as defining the usefulness of mathematics, real and applied parts of mathematics, etc. I was fascinated to see a mathematician's attitude towards real life applica ...more
Sam Chow
Oct 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A short and famous book that's still relevant today. "A man who is always asking 'Is what I do worth while?' and 'Am I the right person to do it?' will always be ineffective himself and a discouragement to others." Indeed, such people are so depressing. In his Apology, G.H. Hardy has gotten to a point in his life at which he feels creatively useless, and only then does he look back on his life and attempt to justify it by assessing pure mathematics as a career. The philosophical aspects are very ...more
Dec 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
This is undeniably a beautifully written book, essentially an essay in defense of the value of pure mathematics. It's also a poignant and moving piece of autobiography. On the other hand I think it's bad for people to read it who don't have their own strong, fully formed ideas about math. Hardy is of the "the only worthwhile thing is to pursue your talent" school and the "math is a young man's game" school and the "most people are mediocre" school and generally will make anyone studying math fee ...more
Jan 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
We can probably not find a man in science like Hardy to despise war so much as to go into great length to justify uselessness of "his mathematics" for any kind of war, propaganda and human affair. But it only took a century to prove him wrong. Today his math is the biggest tool that can affect any war, state of humanity and happiness of people. His apology and the intro by C. P. Snow was a very good book to read in just one sitting.
James Nance
Oct 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
G.H. Hardy argues that mathematics should be studied, not primarily for its utility, but for its aesthetics. He gives the best description that I have read of mathematical beauty, including the qualities of surprise, generality, and depth. These qualities give the study of mathematics permanent value.
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Godfrey Harold Hardy FRS was a prominent English mathematician, known for his achievements in number theory and mathematical analysis.

Non-mathematicians usually know him for A Mathematician's Apology, his essay from 1940 on the aesthetics of mathematics. The apology is often considered one of the best insights into the mind of a working mathematician written for the layman.

His relationship as ment

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