Memoir of a Scientific Maverick
Vintage Books, Paperback, 9780307389916, 324pp.
Publication Date: January 14, 2014
A fascinating memoir from the man who revitalized visual geometry, and whose ideas about fractals have changed how we look at both the natural world and the financial world.
Benoit Mandelbrot, the creator of fractal geometry, has significantly improved our understanding of, among other things, financial variability and erratic physical phenomena. In The Fractalist, Mandelbrot recounts the high points of his life with exuberance and an eloquent fluency, deepening our understanding of the evolution of his extraordinary mind. We begin with his early years: born in Warsaw in 1924 to a Lithuanian Jewish family, Mandelbrot moved with his family to Paris in the 1930s, where he was mentored by an eminent mathematician uncle. During World War II, as he stayed barely one step ahead of the Nazis until France was liberated, he studied geometry on his own and dreamed of using it to solve fresh, real-world problems. We observe his unusually broad education in Europe, and later at Caltech, Princeton, and MIT. We learn about his thirty-five-year affiliation with IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center and his association with Harvard and Yale. An outsider to mainstream scientific research, he managed to do what others had thought impossible: develop a new geometry that combines revelatory beauty with a radical way of unfolding formerly hidden laws governing utter roughness, turbulence, and chaos.
With full-color inserts and black-and-white photographs throughout.
“A heroic story of discovery. . . . Illustrate[s] what it takes for great new science to be created.” —Stephen Wolfram, The Wall Street Journal
“Mandelbrot had the kind of beautiful, buzzing mind that made even gifted fellow scientists feel shabby around the edges. . . . The Fractalist evokes the kinds of deceptively simple questions Mandelbrot asked . . . and the profound answers he supplied.” —The New York Times
“Fascinating and engaging . . . A compelling look at one of the greatest multidisciplinary thinkers of the 21st century.” —Wired.com
“Mandelbrot was a spell-worker who saw connections no one else did and united apparently disparate phenomena. The mathematics of fractals—and pictures of the Mandelbrot set—offered many budding mathematicians their first taste of ‘real’ mathematics, in all its beauty, utility and sheer unexpectedness.” —The Economist
“The delight Mandelbrot took in roughness, brokenness, and complexity, in forms that earlier mathematicians had regarded as ‘monstrous’ or ‘pathological,’ has a distinctly modern flavor. Indeed, with their intricate patterns that recur endlessly on ever tinier scales, Mandelbrot’s fractals call to mind the definition of beauty offered by Baudelaire: C’est l’infini dans le fini.” —New York Review of Books
“If you love fractals, you will love this memoir. . . . Mandelbrot describes his life and times with both introspection and humor.” —New York Journal of Books
“Charmingly written . . . The memoir of a brilliant mathematician who never thought of himself as a mathematician.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Captures the enthusiasm as well as the memories of a visionary who loved nothing better than studying complex multidisciplinary concepts.” —Publishers Weekly
“[Mandelbrot’s] work has spread and impacted so many fields that there’s nobody in the world who is broad enough to appreciate the full impact. . . . [His] mix of gall and genius gave him license to ask the questions no one else did.” —Thomas Theis, director of physical sciences at IBM Research
“Mandelbrot brings us back to the sense of the wonder of things, without giving up the logic.” —John Briggs, author of Fractals: The Patterns of Chaos
“When we talk about the impact inside mathematics, and applications in the sciences, [Mandelbrot] is one of the most important figures of the last 50 years.” —Heinz-Otto Peitgen, professor of mathematics and biomedical sciences at the University of Bremen